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How to get the trace element fundamentals right over lambing

by | Sheep

Whether you’ve bolused before, considering bolusing for the first time, or just exploring all the different supplementation options available, we’ve laid it all out to help you make right decision for your farm system.

Promoting ewe condition, healthy birth weights, immune transfer, and lamb vigour is top of everyone’s agenda heading into lambing. It is complex and influenced by a multitude of management factors; nutrition being one of the most critical influencers to get right when considering cost of production.

The sheep nutrition challenge

There is a 6 month period from before lambing to post-turnout that ewes and lambs are susceptible to a trace element nutrition gap on many farms. Cobalt, copper, iodine, and selenium are independently and collectively critical to functions including digestion, immunity, reproduction, and growth and development.

Mind the gap pre-lambing

Just as the ewe’s energy, vitamin, and trace element demand increases in the 8 weeks leading up to lambing( when the lamb is growing the most), her feed intake naturally decreases. This is because the growing lamb, or lambs, put increasing pressure on her rumen, reducing her appetite. The severity of this nutritional gap can depend on whether the ewe is pregnant with a single lamb, twins, or triplets.

These trace elements are critical to optimum ewe condition, foetal development, colostrum quality, passive immunity from ewe to lamb, and effective feed digestion. Ewes that are deficient in one or more essential trace elements will be more exposed to the risks of:

Top tip: Plan ahead to ensure your ewes and lambs have enough energy, protein, dry matter, and trace elements from pre-lambing to turn-out. This is a critical time to ensure needs are met so that health and growth targets can be achieved. A forage analysis is advised to check on energy, protein, and trace element levels to help with ration formulations. Download the AHDB Feeding the Ewe resource for guidance on dry matter intake requirements at different stages of the production year.

Mind the gap post-turnout

Fast-forward a few weeks when ewes and lambs are often turned out, the lamb is at a rapid growth stage.

This is a critical time to ensure every ewe is getting enough trace elements every day, as the lambs start to grow and require larger quantities of milk, drawing on the ewe’s trace element resources. However, in many cases, energy feeds that were fed indoors are reduced or even stopped at turnout.

Whilst spring grass is lush, high in energy, and rapidly growing, it is low in dry matter and likely deficient in macro minerals and one or more of the trace elements vital to digestive function, immune strength, and growth and development.

Top tip: Ewe peak milk production is usually around 3-4 weeks post-lambing. At this time, the young lamb also requires forage and hard feed for rumen development. As the milk yield rapidly decreases rapidly hereon – the lamb needs a variety of food types to continue rumen development and growth. So, it is actually important to not have too much milk. One because we want to encourage the lamb to consumer a variety of food types. And two because ewes are at a higher risk ofmastitis, for example.

In our last blog, we explored the effective timing of pre-lambing preparations. Specifically, if a pregnant ewe is deficient in any essential trace elements; then vaccinating and drenching efficacy is likely to be compromised, and so any supplementation must be offered before rather than during or after administration. In this blog, we compare different sheep supplementation options to help you make the right choice for your farm system.

  1. Comparing modes of sheep supplementation
  2. Comparing different sheep boluses
  3. How and when to bolus
  4. Doing the number crunching

1. Comparing modes of sheep supplementation

Nearly all soil types and thus grass, and forage is deficient in one or more of the essential trace elements – cobalt, copper, iodine, and/or selenium.,

Farmers are encouraged to regularly analyse soil and forage to understand and supplement any deficiencies at key times including tupping, lambing, turnout, and finishing.

When establishing your nutritional plans, it is important to weigh up the different options available.

 Animal feedsMineral premixesBuckets/ blocksSheep drenchesANIMAX boluses
Nutritional contentsCan contain a complete mixture of macro and micronutrients (energy and minerals).Available as energy and/or mineral.Essential trace elements only.
Supplem-entation periodFrequent intake by the animal is required.Last up to 24-hours, so requires weekly application.Starts on day 1 and lasts for up to 6 months.
Assurance levelIntake rates cannot be fully controlled and assured from animal to animal, as some animals more active than others.Known level of trace elements to each animal.Precise level of trace elements to each animal.
Key benefitCustomisable, convenient, and complete solution.Convenient, and quick.Offers an immediate supply of supplements.Precise, easy, and long-lasting.
Key drawbackNot always convenient to grazing systems.Homogenous distribution throughout the ration difficult to achieve.Possible risk of disease transmission.Short term and unreliable if applicators incorrectly calibrated.Does not offer animals any macro-nutrients.

In summary, compound feeds and licks are mainly used for providing ewes with energy, with the supply of trace elements very much secondary. This is the specialist job of the ANIMAX Tracesure® bolus.

When proactively bolusing, farmers can be sure every ewe, and indirectly every lamb, will have enough trace elements from pre-lambing to post-turnout.

ANIMAX technologies can be safely used with other supplementation systems, provided appropriate guidance to avoid over supply of trace elements has been followed.

2. Comparing different sheep boluses

When deciding on which bolus is right for you and your animals, there are three important performance-impacting factors to consider:

  1. Trace element levels
  2. Trace element types
  3. Mode of action

2.1 Trace element levels

When it comes to trace element nutrition, it is vital to understand that more isn’t necessarily better. Oversupply is as important as undersupply and can be a waste of resource and even cause toxicity in the animal. Always read the label carefully to ensure you’re selecting the bolus that right for your system.

Trace elementANIMAX Tracesure® trace element levels (mg/bolus)Trace element levels of other 6-month boluses on the market (mg/bolus)
Copper 4,000 3,240 – 4,200
Cobalt 18596 – 198
Iodine 660108 – 756
Selenium 10048 – 100

ANIMAX Tracesure® offers optimal levels of trace elements to satisfy the demands of the pregnant ewe and her lamb. However, quality is as important as quantity…

2.2 Trace element type

When it comes to trace element nutrition, it is vital to understand that not all trace elements are the same. Some sources and forms offer greater bioavailability (are more absorbable and utilisable by the animal) than others.

Trace elementANIMAX Tracesure®Other boluses
Copper*Contains fully oxidised copper oxide needles required for utilisation in the animal. Uniquely made in house to ensure critical parameters are met.Some other boluses have been found to contain elemental copper that cannot be utilised by the animal (unoxidized).
CobaltContains a form of cobalt that is readily available in the rumen to allow rumen bacteria to convert the cobalt to vitamin B12.Sometimes use a less soluble form of cobalt that may not be available in the rumen for conversion into vitamin B12.
IodineContains two types of iodine to ensure an immediate supply as well as a longer term supply.Other boluses contain iodine sources that tend not to start releasing straight away.
SeleniumSelenium is available as either sodium selenite or sodium selenate, both offering the same supplementation efficacy. The choice of sodium selenite or sodium selenate depends on the mode of action of the bolus, which should be the main focus when considering selenium, as this is what influences safe inclusion levels.   

ANIMAX Tracesure® has been carefully formulated by scientists to include highly bioavailable trace elements that offer both short and long term supply to the animal. Release pattern and efficacy of the trace elements in the bolus is also influenced by its mode of action…

ANIMAX Tracesure® Sheep is the only bolus on the market that is soil association approved for use on organic systems*. Read more here.

* Non-copper products only

2.3 Mode of action

Dissolving boluses

The bolus reduces in size overtime. The smaller the bolus gets; the quicker trace elements may be released due to increased exposure to rumen fluid.

Eroding boluses

Can break up into pieces over time, which increases the risk of regurgitation. The more the bolus breaks up; the quicker trace elements may be released due to increased exposure to rumen fluid.

ANIMAX Diffusion boluses

Stays the same size and weight over time, reducing the risk of the bolus being prematurely passed or regurgitated.   The surface area exposed to the bolus remains the same, for a more consistent rate of release.  

ANIMAX Tracesure® Sheep features patented diffusion technology® that has been developed by scientists, engineers, and farmers to optimise the rate of trace element release over time whilst lowering the risk of premature regurgitation or passing. The technology allows for high levels of trace elements to be incorporated safely, in a single application.

3. How and when to bolus

Proactive bolusing is the concept of bolusing at key times to equip animals with the essential trace elements needed to supplement any health and production limiting deficiencies.

By bolusing in the weeks leading up to lambing, you will fill the trace element gap at pre-lambing and post-turnout, enabling sheep and lambs to maximise energy from grass and forage.

Watch this video guide on how to bolus your sheep

Veterinary and nutritional advice should be sought before supplementation, particularly copper and selenium where there is an increased risk of toxicity when other products are used. Animax technologies are cross-compatible with other strategies of nutrition and management.

4. Doing the number crunching

Although, there is an upfront cost of buying boluses, it only a twice-yearly outlay. Costed out per day, each bolus is literally less than pennies!

ANIMAX Tracesure® Sheep can be as little as £1.15/ewe (no copper) or £1.25/ewe with copper), for up to 6 months of supplementation, which is less than 1 pence per day.

For 0.75 pence/day over a 6 month period, you can be sure that every ewe has a precise supply of trace elements daily to support ewes, before, during and after lambing.

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