5 bolusing dos and don’ts to make way for a successful lambing


Trace element deficiencies in sheep – even subclinical – can have costly implications and take up valuable time fixing. Kayt Johnson – ANIMAX Territory Manager for the South of England – offers some essential trace element supplementation dos and don’ts to help optimise grazing or forage utilisation and help maximise overall performance at lambing and beyond.

  • DO make sure you know which trace elements you are supplementing and that this is at the correct levels
  • DON’T forgo testing soil, pasture, and forages regularly
  • DO analyse your flock results and discuss suitable testing with your vet
  • DON’T bolus without being set up and without adequate time to ensure boluses are given correctly
  • DO your homework before you buy

DO make sure you know which trace elements you are supplementing and that this is at the correct levels

Efficient trace element management hinges on supplementing with the right trace elements, at a time and rate that matches the specific needs and requirements of your flock.

Avoiding oversupply is arguably as important as avoiding undersupply. Trace elements such as copper and selenium can cause toxicity, which in some cases may be fatal. Trace element supplementation should only be used if a trace element deficiency is known to be a risk. Before supplementing, ensure that you know which trace elements you are supplying, and why.

When bolusing, use the right bolus for the age and weight of stock. This will help prevent the risk of over or undersupplying the various trace elements. If in doubt weigh a few animals.

DON’T forgo testing soil, pasture, and forages regularly

It is important to understand that the results for trace elements in a soil analysis do not necessarily represent the trace elements actually available in grazing or conserved forage produced from that land. Soil contamination and crop type can also influence trace element availability.

Regularly carry out analyses of both pasture and conserved forage and ask for trace elements to be included in the analysis, in addition to standard measurements such as dry matter, energy, protein etc. Keep in mind that the results will likely vary between fields and cuts, for example. Do include testing for antagonists such as molybdenum, sulphur and iron, as high levels of antagonists may reduce the availability of copper, causing secondary deficiency.

DO analyse your flock results and discuss suitable testing with your vet

To understand the threat of trace element deficiencies in sheep, a trace element audit of the farm can help to assess all other possible sources of trace elements available to the flock, in addition to those from forage. For example, concentrates, any supplementation used in the last couple of months such as licks and buckets, drenches, injections, and wormers (some wormers may include selenium), even water samples should be considered.

Most importantly there are the animals themselves. Look at the history and farm records of the flock in terms of clinical signs and performance. Remember deficiencies may be subclinical, therefore discuss with your vet the benefits of routinely blood testing a sample of animals, at suitable intervals, to identify any deficiencies and also the merit of further tests such as liver biopsies etc. In addition to routine sampling a representative number of animals, it may be useful to screen samples from any post-mortems.

Where trace element deficiencies are identified, discuss the most appropriate supplementation with your vet and/or nutritionist. Update the flock health plan to include a suitable proactive bolusing programme, to ensure that you are supplying the key trace elements when there is an increased need, for example, pre-tupping and pre-lambing.

DON’T bolus without being set up and without adequate time to ensure boluses are given correctly

Bolusing is an easy and stress-free means of overcoming trace element deficiencies in sheep – provided it’s done correctly. Here’s a few key steps to achieving swift and stress-free bolusing:

  1. Before starting, ensure that you have the handling system set up and in good working order to avoid the risk of injuries. Also check you have enough boluses and the correct applicator(s), and that the applicator is clean and functioning correctly.
  2. Once the animals are gathered in give them 5 or 10 minutes to settle down before starting to bolus them.
  3. If using more than one bolus per application, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct order of loading the boluses into the applicator. If only giving one bolus ensure that these are loaded the correct way around if the bolus is not symmetrical, i.e. load the bolus so that the flat end goes into the applicator first, therefore when the bolus is applied, the curved or rounded end comes out first.
  4. Standing to the side of the animal that is suitably restrained in the chute, or race, or within hurdles with your arm nearest to the animal’s head, place your arm over the top of the animal’s face or muzzle so that your fingers touch the lip on the opposite side, (not the side of the mouth that is closest to you).  Push your hand under the lip and use the same hand to touch the roof of the mouth, while gently elevating the head. This will encourage the animal to open the mouth wide enough to get the applicator in.
  5. While keeping the head elevated insert the applicator from the side of the mouth and smoothly move it to the middle of the mouth while inserting the barrel, so that the tip of the applicator passes over the muscle towards the back of the tongue to the entrance of the oesophagus. Be careful and do not force the applicator as this may cause tissue damage.
  6. Press the trigger handle to release the bolus, keeping the head elevated for a few seconds after you have gently removed the applicator, to ensure that the bolus has been swallowed.
  7. If carrying out another task at the same time, such as an injection or scanning, give the bolus first.

On finishing carefully pack away any unused boluses, ensuring they are stored in clean, dry packaging as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Record the date, the product used (and batch number) and the individual or group identifications of the animals given a bolus.

Be proactive make a note in the diary to prompt giving a further bolus in six months. To use time efficiently try to coordinate giving a bolus with times when you are already handling the flock.

And… Never bolus if you are in a hurry or a bad mood or hungry!

DO your homework before buying

When choosing your bolus to overcome trace element deficiencies in sheep, consider not only the trace element levels, but also the trace element source and the mode of trace element release. Also check that the bolus is produced to FEMAS, GMP+ FSA standards.

Featuring patented diffusion technology®, ANIMAX Tracesure® boluses have been shown to provide an optimal and sustained rate of release of the key trace elements – cobalt, copper (optional) iodine, selenium – for up to 6 months.

Read this blog for a comparison of the available supplementation strategies and different bolus types.

And finally, do proactively include an appropriate bolus regime in your flock health plan! To avoid trace element deficiencies in sheep DO contact ANIMAX for help from the field team or veterinary advisor.

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