Biotin Addition to Lactating Rations is a �No Brainer�

Dr. Ronald L. Boman
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

During the Utah Dairy Seminar series in December, Dr. Mike Hutjens from the University of Illinois gave two excellent presentations each day on �Bench Marking Early Lactation Success.� He gave us many excellent suggestions to prevent and overcome metabolic and nutritional problems during the transition from the dry period to calving, and then for the first 100 days of lactation. One of the things that Dr. Hutjens pointed out as a real �No Brainer,� as far as its inclusion in the ration of lactating dairy cows, was the addition of 20 mg of Biotin/cow/day. Biotin, a water soluble, B-vitamin, is essential for the growth of all major rumen bacteria and is also essential for the dairy cow herself. Biotin is a cofactor with enzymes involved in pathways for amino acid metabolism, cellular respiration, and both glucose and fatty acid synthesis. Biotin is required for the rumen fermentation of dietary carbohydrate to propionic acid and for the conversion of propionic acid to glucose in the liver. Biotin is also required in hoof horn formation for the production of structural proteins (keratin) and for the production of intracellular cement that bonds together hoof horn cells to form a semi-waterproof barrier to the environment. Both of these factors affect the integrity of the hoof horn, and ultimately the hoof health of dairy cows.

It takes about 6 months to see a 50% improvement in hoof health when 20 mg of biotin is added to the diet, but the response in milk production is immediate. Ohio workers in a controlled study added 0, 10, or 20 mg of biotin to the diet of cows 14 days before calving and during the first 100 days in milk. The significant increases in milk due to the addition of biotin were obvious one week after calving. The increase in milk averaged 2 and 6 lbs/day during the 100-day period for 10 and 20 mg of biotin, respectively, compared to the zero level of biotin. There were no differences in feed intake or milk composition, but there was an increase in the yield of milk true protein. Additionally, the 20 mg of biotin compared to zero biotin resulted in 3.5 lbs more energy corrected milk. Wisconsin workers, also in a controlled study with replicated 28-day periods, showed a significant daily milk increase of 3.7 lbs with 20 mg of added biotin. Dry matter intake increased 1.5 lbs/cow and yield of milk fat and true protein were also significantly increased. When 40 mg of Biotin was compared to 20 mg there was no additional response.

Results of field trials with either zero or 20 mg of added biotin have resulted in milk yield increases of 2 to 6 lbs/day for complete lactations in moderate to high producing cows. In a field trial by Canadian workers in which foot health was intensively monitored and feet were trimmed often to detect differences over entire lactations (170 cows), milk production numerically increased an average of 3.5 lbs/day for cows receiving 20 mg vs zero added biotin. The presence of subclinical foot lesions was greater at the end of the trial for zero compared to biotin supplementation even though the cows were on pasture 6 months of the year. The first lactation cows receiving 20 mg of added biotin had 61 fewer days from calving to conception, and breedings per conception were 1.5 compared to 2.96 for the control cows.

At the current prices for biotin, dairy producers should be able to add 20 mg of biotin for about 4 cents/cow/day. Being very conservative and figuring milk at $10/cwt and only 3 lbs more milk/cow/day, the return for each $1.00 spent on biotin would be $7.50 with the expected improvement in foot health and possible increased reproductive efficiency as added bonuses. Some studies have even indicated a reduction in the incidence of hairy heel warts when 20 mg of biotin/cow/day was included in the diet.

Adding 20 mg of biotin/cow/day really is a �No Brainer.� It is a given that biotin and other B-vitamins are synthesized in the rumen, but the rate of synthesis is markedly reduced on the high grain rations that dairy cows, with their higher levels of milk production, are receiving today.


1. Bergstein, C., P.R. Greenough, J.M. Gay, W.M. Seymour, and C.C. Gay. 2003. Effects of biotin supplementation on performance and claw lesions on a commercial dairy farm. J. Dairy Sci. 86:3953-3962.

2. Majee, D.M., E.C. Schwab, S.J. Bertics, W.M. Seymour, and R.D. Shaver. 2002. Lactation performance by dairy cows fed supplemental biotin and a B-vitamin blend. J. Dairy Sci. 86:2106-2112.

3. Zimmerly, C.A. and W.P. Weiss. Effects of supplemental dietary biotin on performance of Holstein cows during early lactation. J. Dairy Sci. 84:498-506. ©