Frequent weighing of lambs can prevent illness
Published:  13 August, 2015

Cobalt deficiency in lambs was the topic of discussion at the recent Forth Monitor Farm meeting, hosted by the McEwen family at Arnprior Farm. 

The element cobalt is an essential source of B12, which is manufactured in the animal’s first stomach. A deficiency of cobalt – commonly known among farmers as pine – occurs where there are low concentrations of soil cobalt. PGE [Parasitic Gastroenteritis] has the potential to further complicate matters as it results in diarrhoea, which interferes with the absorption of B12.

Duncan McEwen Junior addressed the meeting, saying: “Soil testing has shown that our soils are deficient in cobalt, selenium and copper. So pre-tupping and pre-lambing, our ewes receive boluses which include all three trace elements.”

While the lambs are still suckling, the required amount of cobalt intake is low. However, once they begin to graze, the requirement greatly increases.

To monitor the health levels of their lambs, it is suggested that farmers regularly weigh their animals. McEwen explained: “It helps to ensure we’re drawing lambs when they are ready and not being left to put on weight, which will take them over abattoir spec.”

“Regular weighing also alerts us to any drops in lamb performance, triggering an investigation to establish the cause.

“The first weighing after the Highland Show, it seemed as if they had hit a wall, some had even lost weight. We suspected cobalt deficiency and blood-tested some of the most checked lambs. While their selenium levels were OK, their cobalt was on the floor.”

The McEwens are in the process of researching which cobalt treatment is the most effective. In July, they separated 350 lambs into groups of 50, with all the lambs being copper-bloused. Each group has received either a cobalt drench or bolus treatment. At the end of the season, the McEwens will review their findings.

“We need to prevent before the need to cure, and the aim of this year’s treatment comparison is to establish which is most suited to our farm. Just one week after receiving cobalt treatment, there was a noticeable improvement in all the lambs. And with no withdrawal complications, by the end of July we had drawn almost 100 further lambs for slaughter. If we hadn’t treated for cobalt deficiency, they would have continued to under-perform.”