Beta-Carotene in Cattle Nutrition: Boosting Reproductive Health and Sustainable Production

Strategic use of harvested feeds during periods of low forage quality and availability helps producers to keep competitive in the market. In the early months of the year, when agricultural producers are primarily feeding stored hay to their livestock, a critical issue may emerge. The nutrient value of stored hay, often used in the cattle (beef/dairy) industry, can degrade over time. This period is also crucial for the breeding season for cattle, presenting unique nutritional challenges. One essential aspect that needs attention during this time is the supplementation of beta-carotene, a key component in supporting optimum fertility and enhancing colostrum quality in cows.

Understanding Beta-Carotene

Ruminants are unable to synthesize Vitamin A, making beta-carotene their primary natural source of this vital nutrient. This carotenoid, which imparts red, yellow, and orange colors to many fruits and vegetables, is predominantly sourced from forages, particularly lush green pastures. In cattle, beta-carotene is not only essential for their diet but also plays a crucial role in local conversion to Vitamin A within target organs including the ovaries. This conversion is vital for several bodily functions such as vision, immune response, and reproductive health (Hemken and Bremel, 1982). The process involves hydrolysis of beta-carotene by pancreatic enzymes, followed by storage in the liver, a mechanism further detailed in studies by Craig et al. (2016) and Sajovic et al. (2022). Additionally, calves newly born from cows with deficient vitamin A levels often exhibit eye damage, typically resulting from pressure on the optic nerve due to the narrowing of the optic canal, as identified in studies by Van Der Lugt & Prozesky (1989) and Wilcock & Njaa (2016).

Beta-Carotene in Forages: Seasonal Variations and Nutritional Adequacy
The beta-carotene content in forages, a crucial component in cattle diets, varies markedly with seasonal changes. This fluctuation is significantly influenced by grazing systems and seasonal forage production (Hess et al., 2005). During the dry season, a period often coinciding with the majority of a beef cow's pregnancy, forages tend to be higher in fiber but lower in overall mass (Santos et al., 2014). This seasonal reduction in forage quality and quantity can adversely affect the nutrient balance, particularly impeding the resumption of fertile ovarian cycles post-calving. In situations where low-quality forages are abundant, protein supplements become crucial (DelCurto et al., 2000).

While fresh grass and other forages are typically rich in beta-carotene, their levels can diminish during storage or preservation processes. This decline can challenge the consistency in meeting the daily beta-carotene requirements of cattle. Research indicates that prolonged feeding on dry pastures, poorly stored forage, or high grain diets can lead to hypovitaminosis A in cattle over periods of 5-18 months (Donkersgoed & Clark 1988, Constable et al., 2017, Parker et al., 2017). Therefore, implementing nutritional supplementation programs is critical to fulfill the nutritional needs of cattle, thereby enhancing both reproductive efficiency and overall productivity.

Beta-Carotene in Dairy and Beef Cattle
In the realm of cattle production, a keen focus on the reproductive efficiency of female cattle is paramount. Whether it's in the context of dairy or beef cattle, beta-carotene assumes a pivotal role in bolstering reproductive health, promoting growth, and nurturing overall development. Its significance is most pronounced during the reproductive cycle, as elucidated by Kaewlamun et al. (2011). During this crucial phase, beta-carotene not only contributes to enhancing fertility rates but also plays a vital role in ensuring the successful maintenance of pregnancy in cattle.

Furthermore, beta-carotene boasts formidable antioxidant properties, effectively combating oxidative stress — a primary precursor to various diseases and health complications. This property is indispensable for sustaining the overall well-being of cattle and equipping them to confront environmental stressors (Arechiga et al., 1998).

A noteworthy study delved into the correlation between plasma concentrations of beta-carotene and pregnancy outcomes in lactating Holstein cows. The findings, as presented by Madureira et al. (2019), revealed that cows with higher levels of beta-carotene in their plasma at timed artificial insemination (AI) exhibited increased concentrations of Pregnancy Associated Glycoproteins (PAG) at 31 days, leading to enhanced pregnancy rates per AI and reduced pregnancy losses between 31 and 60 days of gestation. This discovery is particularly significant as lower PAG concentrations have been linked to late embryonic mortality (Pohler et al., 2016).

Additionally, Sales et al. (2008) observed that supplementing with beta-carotene could potentially enhance embryo viability. Ikeda et al. (2005) reported an interesting protective mechanism, wherein beta-carotene integration into follicular and oocyte cells shielded them from cytotoxic effects induced by reactive oxygen species. This safeguarding process ultimately led to improved oocyte maturation and quality, thereby contributing to the broader context of bovine reproductive health.

Supplementing Beta Carotene: Benefits and Economics
The strategic inclusion of beta-carotene in cattle diets presents a multifaceted array of advantages, characterized by its profound influence on various facets of cattle physiology. This nutritional supplementation exerts a discernible positive impact on reproductive health and concurrently augments the cattle's resilience against prevalent diseases. Moreover, from an economic standpoint, the incorporation of beta-carotene into cattle diets warrants meticulous consideration, primarily due to its notable return on investment. This financial aspect becomes particularly compelling during the initial months of the year, a period coinciding with heightened nutritional demands among cows.


Strategically managing beta-carotene in cattle diets is essential for maximizing reproductive health and overall productivity. By understanding its benefits and timely integrating its supplementation into cattle diets, producers can significantly enhance the fertility, colostrum quality, and overall health of cows. This practice not only aids in addressing immediate reproductive challenges but also contributes to the long-term sustainability and profitability of operations. For those in the industry, acknowledging and adopting these nutritional strategies is a step towards a more productive and sustainable future.


Arechiga, C.F., Staples, C.R., McDowell, L.R., Hansen, P.J. (1998). Effects of timed insemination and supplemental beta-carotene on reproduction and milk yield of dairy cows under heat stress. Journal of Dairy Science, 81, 390–402.

Constable, P.D., Hinchcliff, K.W., Done, S.H., Grünberg, W. (2017). Veterinary Medicine: A Textbook of the Diseases of Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Pigs, and Goats. 11th ed. St. Louis: Elsevier, pp. 1314-1320.

Craig, L.E., Dittmer, K.E., Thompson, K.G. (2016). Bones and Joints. In M.G. Maxie (Ed.), Jubb, Kennedy, and Palmer’s Pathology of Domestic Animals, Vol. 1, 6th ed. St. Louis: Elsevier, pp. 82-84.

DelCurto, T., Hess, B.W., Huston, J.E., Olson, K.C. (2000). Optimum supplementation strategies for beef cattle consuming low-quality roughages in the western United States. Journal of Animal Science, 77(E-Suppl), 1–. doi:10.2527/jas2000.77E-Suppl1v

Donkersgoed, J.V., Clark, E.G. (1988). Blindness caused by hypovitaminosis A in feedlot cattle. Canadian Veterinary Journal, 29(11), 925-927.

Hemken, R.W., Bremel, D.H. (1982). Possible role of beta-carotene in improving fertility in dairy cattle. Journal of Dairy Science, 65, 1069–1073.

Hess, B.W., Lake, S.L., Scholljegerdes, E.J., Weston, T.R., Nayigihugu, V., Molle, J.D.C., Moss, G.E. (2005). Nutritional controls of beef cow reproduction. Journal of Animal Science, 83(suppl_13), E90–E106.

Ikeda, S., Kitagawa, M., Imai, H., Yamada, M. (2005). The roles of vitamin A for cytoplasmic maturation of bovine oocytes. Journal of Reproduction and Development, 51, 23-35.

Kaewlamun, W., Okouyi, M., Humblot, P., Remy, D., Techakumphu, M., Duvaux-Ponter, C., Ponter, A.A. (2011). Does supplementing dairy cows with β-carotene during the dry period affect postpartum ovarian activity, progesterone, and cervical and uterine involution? Theriogenology, 75, 1029-1038.

Madureira, A.M.L., Pohler, K.G., Guida, T.G., Wagner, S.E., Cerri, R.L.A., Vasconcelos, J.L.M. (2020). Association of concentrations of beta-carotene in plasma on pregnancy per artificial insemination and pregnancy loss in lactating Holstein cows. Theriogenology, 142, 216–221. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2019.10.006

Parker, E.M., Gardiner, C.P., Kessell, A.E., Parker, A.J. (2017). Hypovitaminosis A in extensively grazed beef cattle. Australian Veterinary Journal, 95(3), 80-84.

Pohler, K.G., Pereira, M.H., Lopes, F.R., Lawrence, J.C., Keisler, D.H., Smith, M.F., Vasconcelos, J.L., Green, J.A. (2016). Circulating concentration of bovine pregnancy-associated glycoproteins and late embryonic mortality in lactating dairy herds. Journal of Dairy Science, 99, 1584–1594.

Sajovic, J., Meglič, A., Glavač, D., Markelj, Š., Hawlina, M., Fakin, A. (2022). The role of vitamin A in retinal diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 23(3), 1014.

Sales, J.N.S., Dias, L.M.K., Viveiros, A.T.M., Pereira, M.N., Souza, J.C. (2008). Embryo production and quality of Holstein heifers and cows supplemented with beta-carotene and tocopherol. Animal Reproduction Science, 106, 77–89.

Santos, F., Dorea, J., De Souza, J., Batistel, F., Costa, D. (2014). Forage Management and Methods to Improve Nutrient Intake in Grazing Cattle. 25th Florida Rumin. Nutr. 144-165.

Van Der Lugt, J.J., Prozesky, L. (1989). The pathology of blindness in newborn calves caused by hypovitaminosis A. Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research, 56(2), 99-109.

Wilcock, B.P., Njaa, B.L. (2016). Special Senses. In M.G. Maxie (Ed.), Jubb, Kennedy, and Palmer’s Pathology of Domestic Animals, Vol. 1, 6th ed. St. Louis: Elsevier, pp. 407-508.

Published on

22 January 2024


  • Ruminants
  • Carotenoids
  • Beta-Carotene

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