Biotin is a water-soluble B-complex vitamin that is produced by the rumen microbes. New studies have shown biotin could be a limiting nutrient for high producing cows. Supplemental biotin can improve hoof health and hoof hardness. Studies have shown significant reductions of sole ulcers, heel erosion, heel warts, claw lesions, and sand cracks when biotin is supplemented (20 mg/day) for 8-12 months. Biotin is also a needed cofactor for body enzymes and many metabolic processes. Milk production responses to supplemental biotin have been seen.

Biotin is a water-soluble B-complex vitamin. The rumen microbes manufacture all of the water-soluble B-complex vitamins, including biotin, niacin, thiamin and riboflavin. In the past, nutritionists believed that a sufficient amount of biotin was made in the rumen to supply all of the cow’s needs. It was difficult to create a clinical biotin deficiency in cows. New studies have shown that rumen biotin production decreases as the level of grain in the diet increases above 35% in the ration. The rumen makes only 2 to 4 mg of biotin per day. Typically, diets that aren’t supplemented with biotin will supply 4 to 10 mg of biotin per day and this biotin found in feeds is generally not as available to the cow. Cows fed 20 mg of supplemental biotin per day have had blood serum concentrations that were twice as high as control cows and milk concentrations two or three times as high.

Biotin for Hoof Health

Lameness is ranked second to mastitis as the most costly health problem on farms. The average cost of one treated case is $345, when you account for treatment cost, lost milk, delayed breeding, and early culling. Sub-clinical lameness problems also exist. The dairy producer doesn’t directly identify sub-clinical lameness, however it still makes an impact on the overall productivity of the herd. Hoof health affects how well cows walk to the bunk to eat their ration, how much milk they produce, and how well they show standing heats and breed back. Hoof health is affected by: environment, cow comfort, trimming, genetics, and nutrition.

Recent research has shown that biotin supplements can improve hoof health. Hooves are made of very strong, keratinized tissue. They require special nutrients to grow and function, including biotin, copper, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins A and D, and the two sulfur amino acids (cystine and methionine). If the cow receives a limited supply of any of these nutrients either due to a limited concentration in the blood or when blood circulation is disrupted (as in laminitis), the hoof horn will weaken and the cow will be more likely to get hoof lesions. Researchers have created biotin deficiencies in calves. The signs of biotin deficiency include: soft, crumbly hooves, hair loss, and skin lesions.

More than 10 controlled research trials have been completed in which veterinarians carefully evaluated hoof health. For most studies, biotin was fed at 20 mg per cow per day. The average time of response was 8 to 12 months because hooves grow so slowly. In all of the studies, there were significant reductions in at least one type of hoof disorder (sole ulcers or heel erosion, heel warts, claw lesions, and sand cracks).

At the American Dairy Science Association Meetings in 1999, the results of a controlled 12-month field trial in state of Washington were presented. Half of the cows on a 150-cow dairy farm were supplemented with 20 mg per day of biotin and the other half were not supplemented. The cows were housed in a freestall barn, fed a high corn silage ration, and averaged 72 pounds (32.7 kg) of milk. Feet were trimmed every 6 months. At the final foot trimming, 20 of 40 control cows (50%) and 10 of 42 biotin-fed cows (24%) had sole hemorrhages. The difference was statistically significant. The percentages of control cows having double soles, ridges, and heel horn erosion were 28%, 43%, and 53% and for biotin-fed cows 31%, 24%, and 52%, respectively. Those differences weren’t statistically significant. Unfortunately, this study didn’t evaluate heel warts. In general, there is less data on heel warts. However, there are two German studies with small numbers of animals showing a reduction in heel warts with biotin supplementation.

Biotin for Milk Production

Biotin is a necessary co-factor that enables enzymes to work in many chemical reactions in the body. Biotin is needed for the body to process amino acids, to make glucose from the propionate produced in the rumen, and to make fat from the acetate produced in the rumen. Of course, as the cow makes more milk, she needs more biotin for these functions. Biotin is also required by some of the rumen bacteria, especially the fiber-digesting bacteria. In the test tube, added biotin has increased fiber digestibility but in the cow, this effect hasn’t been studied. Biotin is also needed for the rumen microbes to produce propionate.

Only a few trials have been conducted to look at the effect of biotin on milk production.

In the Washington trial previously described, milk production for the lactation was 1931 pounds (878 kg) higher for the biotin-fed cows. Ohio State University research found that cows fed 20 mg of supplemental biotin per day from two weeks before calving to 100 DIM produced 6.4 pounds (2.9 kg) more milk/day than cows that were not supplemented. The control cows averaged 81.2 pounds (36.9 kg) of milk/day and the treated cows averaged 87.6 pounds (39.8 kg) of milk/day. There were 15 cows per treatment. Dry matter intake was the same for all cows (44 pounds (20 kg) per day). Because intake did not increase and because of the immediate response in milk production, the researchers did not associate the response from biotin to an improvement in hoof health. They suspected that the supplemental biotin helped cows to produce more glucose from the propionate produced in the rumen. This would increase the production of lactose (milk sugar) and drive milk production. More research is needed to fully understand how the cow responds metabolically to supplemental biotin.

Biotin is recommended at 20 mg/day throughout lactation and 10-20 mg/day during the dry period. Heifers should begin getting 10-20 mg/day of biotin at 15 months of age. Add biotin as part of a good hoof health program along with attention to dietary effective fiber levels, ration carbohydrates, hoof trimming, and cow comfort.


Bergsten, C., P.R. Greenough, J.M. Gay, R.C. Dobson, and C.C. Gay. 1999. A controlled field trial of the effects of biotin supplementation on milk production and hoof lesions. J. Dairy Sci. 82 (Suppl. 1): 34.

Biotin and hoof health. In: NutraTips, Information for sound nutrition decisions from Roche Vitamins Inc., Number 12.

Seymour, W. 1998. Nutrition and hoof integrity. In: Hoof Trimmers Association, Inc. Newsletter, June 1998.

Seymour, W.M. 1998. Role of biotin in ruminant nutrition examined. Feedstuffs. May 11, 1998

Seymour, W.M. 1998. Yes, you can feed your cows for better foot health. The Western Dairyman. August, 1998.

Weiss, W.P. and C.A. Zimmerly. 2000. Effects of biotin on metabolism and milk yield of dairy cows. In: Proceedings of the Cornell Nutrition Conference for Feed Manufacturers, Rochester, NY, p. 22.

Zimmerly, C.A. and W.P. Weiss. 2000. Effects of supplemental biotin on performance of Holstein cows in early lactation. J. Dairy Sci. 83:1183 (Abstract).


Mary Beth de Ondarza

Mary Beth de Ondarza
45 articles

Nutritional consultant for the dairy feed industry at Paradox Nutrition, LLC.

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Dr. de Ondarza received her Ph. D. from Michigan State University and her Masters Degree from Cornell University, both in the field of Dairy Nutrition.

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Paradox Nutrition

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