Beware vitamin ‘go faster stripes’ in ruminant mineral supplements

Sheep farmers are advised to be wary of misleading ‘go faster stripes’ on supplements for weaned lambs that claim vitamin B inclusion. This alert comes from vet Dr Elizabeth Berry of Animax.

“For ruminants, supplementary B-vitamins are no more than pixie dust,” she says. “As long as the diet contains sufficient cobalt, ruminants make their own B12, for example.

“Moreover, vitamin B1 and most others in this group are also made by rumen bugs as long as rumen function is good. At best, inclusion in a supplement is a placebo.”

For farms producing finished lambs, Dr Berry says getting them to target weight as quickly as possible without concentrates clearly makes good business sense. Among factors governing the conversion of grass into meat, she advises that one of the most critical in lambs is the role of cobalt.

“In all ruminants, cobalt is essential for the synthesis by rumen bacteria of vitamin B12, which is critical in energy and protein metabolism,” she explains. “While lambs are suckling, milk provides their cobalt requirement in full. But post-weaning, cobalt levels in grass are deficient in many parts of the UK and Ireland.”

Without supplementation, the usual sign of deficiency is slow growth due to poor appetite. This can be followed by weakness, anaemia and emaciation.

“Soil temperature and rainfall will vary from season to season, and region to region. Both of these will have an influence on grass growth. As a rule, grass growth is more rapid in the spring, and this can mean a dilution effect of trace elements. So, for maximum growth rates off grass, trace element supplementation can be even more important than usual.

For convenience and reliability, Dr Berry recommends either a pure cobalt, or cobalt-selenium-iodine combination, trickle charge leaching bolus. Both of these, Tracesure Cobalt and Tracesure Lamb, contain premium cobalt sources with high bioavailability, which is not universally the case.

“To avoid doubt,” she says, “these boluses do not contain B-vitamins because, as long as cobalt inclusion is sufficient, they’re unnecessary.”

Leaching bolus technology is patented by and unique to Animax, designed to release trace elements at a regulated rate. The company’s livestock specialists are available to farmers for free advice. Click here.

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