Farming one of the UK’s highest farmsteads is not without its challenges but beef and lamb producer John Cooper has a secret weapon for overcoming many of those hurdles – a trace element bolus.
John Cooper farms cattle and sheep at East Okement Farm, a 350-acre Ministry of Defence holding on Dartmoor. He took over the tenancy from his father but, with the farm sitting at 1,350 feet, the weather is an adversary and so too are very low levels of naturally occurring trace elements in the soil.
Soil tests revealed that the land has only 10% of the cobalt that livestock need in their diet. This was confirmed by blood testing of the sheep; cobalt levels were 90% below what they should have been.
When these findings were presented to Mr. Cooper, he immediately took action to address the issue and, for the two decades since, he has been bolusing with Animax’s trace element boluses.
“The boluses improve the whole wellbeing of the animals. It is a bit like us, if we are feeling OK we can cope with anything. The boluses are definitely a worthwhile expense,” he says.
“As farmers, we are now more aware of why trace elements are needed. Also, if you haven’t got enough cobalt in your animals’ diet, it affects the performance of other trace elements.”
Mr Cooper runs a herd of 50 Blue Grey and Charolais-cross suckler cows. He grazes a flock of 1,100 Welsh Mountain on his farm and a flock of Herdwick sheep on the common land that he has grazing rights to.
The cattle calve all the year around and the offspring are sold as suckled calves at Sedgemoor market after weaning at 7-10 months.
Lambing starts on April 25th with lambs supplying the ethnic market as light lambs at 6-12kg deadweight from mid-July onwards.
The Welsh Mountain ewes, which are run on a grass-only diet, scan at 115%. The Herdwicks, which prefer rough grazing instead of the field, are only rounded up twice a year so they are not scanned.
The ewes are bolused with Tracesure Sheep and copper capsules. They are bolused twice a year at the end of July, and again at the beginning of December. Ewe lambs are bolused in the autumn.
Because of their size the cattle need more trace elements so they are given a double application of Tracesure Cattle with Copper at the beginning of May before turnout and again at the beginning of December.
“Since we’ve been bolusing the cows we’ve noticed that their coats are a much deeper and more defined colour. Black is black and white is white,” says John.
Mr. Cooper credits the boluses with calves and lambs being lively at birth. “It is no different from a woman being in good shape when she has children, everything is just better when you are starting from that point.”
And the rest of the Cooper family recognise the benefits of Tracesure too…
John’s daughter, Helen Penna (left), is a Suitably Qualified Person (SQP) who works in agri-sales at the Okehampton branch of Mole Avon and she has noticed the same effect on her black-coated Welsh Mountain sheep. “Their fleeces go from brown to black once they have been bolused,” says Helen, who also boluses her goats. “I have seen the boluses work, when you have seen it work it is an easy sell.”
John’s son David farms 5,000 acres in East Ayrshire where he runs 3,000 Herdwick and Welsh Mountain ewes. In 2016 David was the Farmers Weekly Young Farmer of the Year. He too boluses all the ewes with Tracesure.