Key Minerals

Several vitamins and minerals have been identified as being essential for healthy hoof horn growth and development.

Vitamins A, D and E, the minerals calcium and phosphorus, and trace elements copper, zinc and selenium have all been recognised as being particularly essential in influencing good horn quality and the production of keratin, the hard substance which gives horn much of its strength, but is also found in skin, teeth and hair; several of these vitamins and minerals are involved in important enzyme activity related to horn production.

In particular, vitamin A has been identified as playing a major role in the maintenance of tissues responsible for cell replication, and vitamin E helps to maintain cell integrity and enhance immunity. Biotin, also known as vitamin B7 or vitamin H, is also becoming widely-supplemented in dairy cow rations.

All cattle diets and particularly those for highly-productive dairy cattle should be balanced for these essential nutrients. Many requirements will be met by the major constituents of the diet, but supplementation may be necessary where levels are insufficient. It is important, though, not to feed an excess of key minerals and vitamins, particularly in terms of cost. The availability of some key minerals may be improved by feeding 'protected' or chelated minerals.

Biotin

Biotin (vitamin B7 or H) is becoming an increasingly common supplementary inclusion in TMR diets for dairy cattle. Biotin has been linked to improved hoof health in dairy herds by improving long-term horn hardness, and may also help to improve milk yields. Biotin is necessary for cell growth, the production of fatty acids, and the metabolism of fats and amino acids, and reserves are dramatically reduced during periods of stress and lameness.

The positive effects of supplementary biotin are most likely related to its activity in improving the metabolism of energy, which can be related directly to milk yield and the production of hoof horn keratin.