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January 2010 Archive for Animal Health & Nutrition

RSS By: Rick Lundquist, Dairy Today

Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. He provides livestock production advice.

Our Dependence on Foreign Vitamins

Jan 29, 2010

by Rick Lundquist, Ph.D.


Recent increases in vitamin D prices are evidence of what can happen when competition in the marketplace is eliminated.

Vitamin D has historically been about $3.00-$3.50/lb.  Now it’s close to $15.00/lb. And rumors are it may go to over $20.00/lb soon. That’s potentially a 600% increase.


Why? European vitamin companies have moved most of their production to China, and the Chinese produce almost all of the world’s needs. They control the market. We don’t make any vitamin D here in the U.S. The same thing has happened with vitamin A and E. It’s mainly manufactured in China. Labor costs and environmental regulations, primarily, have driven all production to places like China and India, where labor is cheap and regulations are lax.


To put this in perspective, these fluctuations in vitamin A & D prices amount to about ¼ cent per cow/day. Recent vitamin E spikes, however, tacked on about a nickel/cow/day at recommended supplementation levels.


Vitamins A, D and E are the only vitamins that are essential for dairy cows. B vitamins, like niacin and biotin, are not essential because the rumen bugs make them but are sometimes supplemented for specific purposes (ketosis, hoof health).  Vitamin A prices are pretty stable now, but a couple of years ago they tripled in price in a short period of time. Vitamin E is also steady now after a sixfold increase a couple of years ago.


We used to think of supplemental vitamins as “cheap insurance,” so we often over-supplement them. It may be a good idea to review your vitamin supplementation with your nutritionist. It could save you some money without any production or health consequences. For example, if you dairy in the Southwest, California or Florida and your cows get plenty of sunshine (not confined inside), you may be able to get by with less vitamin D. If you feed your cows fresh forage from pasture or green chop, you couldn’t buy a better source of vitamin E, B-carotene and vitamin A. Take advantage of contributions from fresh forage and sunshine.     


Normally, when demand declines, we expect prices to decline as well ? as with the grain markets. But with vitamin production in the hands of a few, when demand declines, the producers cut output to decrease supply and increase their prices to maintain their profit margins, much like the oil cartels. Granted, our dependence on foreign vitamins won’t affect our economy like our dependence on foreign oil.

But little by little, the U.S. is losing its manufacturing base. We don’t make much here anymore. We’ve always been able to produce abundant food efficiently. Unfortunately, even U.S. agriculture is becoming dependent on China.


Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. Contact him at

Timing is Everything: Milk Production and Day Length

Jan 04, 2010

by Rick Lundquist

It’s a new year and, I hope, a better year for the dairy business. As we start 2010, one thing is for sure – the days are getting longer again. That’s good news for your milk production.

There’s a radio show host out of St. Paul who talks about the Royal Order of the 21sters. This tongue-in-cheek society considers the arrival of spring to be Dec. 22 because that’s when the days start getting longer (rather than the official start in March). According to the Royal Order, autumn is a long and lingering season between June 22 and Nov. 1, followed by winter during the dark months of November and December.  Dairy producers might inherently be members of this Royal Order too.

The following graph shows the monthly U.S. milk production over the past few years.

As you can see, milk production follows day length pretty closely. As nutritionists, we are very aware of this phenomenon. Dairy producers get pretty anxious for better production in the fall after the weather cools off and cows begin eating more. But milk production often doesn’t really take off until late fall or early winter.

I used to think this phenomenon was exclusive to the South, where most of my clients are. We used to blame it on the long hot summers that took a toll on the cows. They needed time to recoup before they really started pumping out milk, we thought. Although summer stress certainly contributes to stale autumn production, consultants from Northern states where summers are much shorter report the same lag.

Why the correlation between day length and milk production? Hormones. Cows, like other animals, respond to photoperiod sensitive hormones that influence both lactation and breeding as well as other body functions.

Any good feed salesperson – in fact, anyone in the dairy business who sells a product or service that’s designed to increase milk production – needs to study this graph. Timing is everything. November and December are good months to make good impressions. On the other hand, dairy producers too should be aware (or wary) of this phenomenon because it happens every year.   

Reference: Brian Gould, Agricultural and Applied Economics, UW Madison.

Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. You can contact him at

This column is part of the Dairy Today eUpdate newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes dairy industry analysis, dairy nutrition information as well as the latest dairy headline news. Click here to sign up.



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