Investing between 50 cents and $1 per head in a receiving ration to save upwards of $4 per head on medical bills seems almost too appealing. The thought of handling one more ration may not be appealing. But, if it can pay for itself, it's worth considering, especially if it reduces the incidence of shipping-related sickness.

Researchers at Oklahoma State University (OSU) say that adding sufficient levels of Vitamin E to receiving rations lowers medical bills, morbidity and mortality. Furthermore, response to the first treatment is greater than with calves not supplemented with Vitamin E.

Don Gill, OSU Extension beef specialist, says trials were conducted on cattle bought in Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. Control groups were fed a standard receiving ration while remaining groups were fed 2 lbs. of supplement that included 1600 IU/head/day of Vitamin E. Unlimited prairie hay was available to both groups.

Gain of calves receiving Vitamin E increased during the receiving period and the number of sick pen days were lower (Table 1).

"What we generally see in stressed or receiving cattle is that they may arrive with normal levels of Vitamin E," Gill says. "However, after five to six days in the feedyard, the level of Vitamin E has plummeted to nearly nothing, yet we don't know what causes it.

"We tried feeding Vitamin E at 100 IU per day but it did nothing. We then increased it to 1,600 IU per day and noticed an improvement in the first 28 days.

"Even a small reduction in morbidity pays for the cost of the vitamin," Gill adds. "In these experiments, the enhanced performance consistently shows up." Cattle fed Vitamin E also experienced higher daily gain, fewer sick days and slightly higher response to the first treatment regimen.

"Vitamin E cattle exhibited improved gain per pound of feed consumed," Gill says. "In fact, with the better rate exhibited in these cattle and at current feed costs, this alone could reduce these costs as much as $8.44 per head."

Vitamin supplementation resulted in just under a 1/3 lb./day increase combined with slightly fewer sick days. Morbidity remained about the same, yet mortality was more than 50% less.

How It's Done "This implies the thing every feedlot manager hates - another ration," Gill says. "However, it's more palatable when considered as a short-term feed treatment that'll be discontinued after 14 days.

"It can seem difficult adding to feed costs, but our working habits make it too easy to inject a $4 shot into a calf instead," Gill says. "If we feed 1600 IU/head/day of Vitamin E for 14 days, we've spent about 70 cents/head. And, if that 70 cents reduces the incidence of $4 injections, we're easily money ahead."

Using real-world examples, Gill cites a set of 108 heifers that, based on a 400-lb. arrival weight, received $3.72 worth of vaccinations and medications upon arrival. The per-head medical treatment costs on this set ran $5.62. A morbidity reduction of just 15% is worth 85 cents/head, he says.

Vitamin E supplementation can be an effective complement to a stocker/feeder program, Gill says.

"Whether you use the VAC-45 program or another one, if you give calves 45 days to get straightened out and ready for the feedyard, you probably won't experience a lot of morbidity," he says. "Moreover, adding Vitamin E to a short-term receiving ration lowers the possibility of morbidity even more once the calves are in the feedyard.

"If we could reduce drug use by better nutritional fortification, we could make beef a better product," Gill says. "On top of that, we may be enhancing product value by providing consumers with beef that could have a higher Vitamin E content. It certainly could be worth the investment to find out."