The effects of trace element deficiencies in lambs, particularly zinc, copper, cobalt and selenium, include decreased growth rates and increased mortality. However, trace element supplementation of sheep reared under extensive conditions has several logistical problems.
Two trials were designed to investigate the effect of a zinc, cobalt and selenium soluble glass bolus on the trace element status of out-wintered ewe lambs. In trial 1 600 8-month-old ewe lambs (500 Scottish Blackface and 100 North Country Cheviots) were allocated to two treatment groups; 300 were treated with a zinc, cobalt and selenium soluble glass bolus (zinc) and 300 were untreated (control). In trial 2, 315 8-month-old Scottish Blackface ewe lambs were allocated to three treatments: 105 were treated with the zinc, cobalt and selenium soluble glass bolus (zinc), 105 were treated with a copper, cobalt and selenium soluble glass bolus (copper) and the remaining 105 were untreated (control). Blood samples were collected immediately prior to giving boluses and again after approximately 4 months. These were assessed for zinc (plasma zinc concentration), cobalt (serum vitamin B12 concentration), selenium (erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase activity) and copper status (plasma copper concentration, caeruloplasmin, amine oxidase and superoxide dismutase activity and calculation of the ratio between the caeruloplasmin and plasma copper).
The zinc bolus in both trials significantly increased the plasma zinc concentrations (P < 0·001 and P < 0·01 respectively), erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase activities (P < 0·001) and serum vitamin B12 concentrations (P < 0·001). The copper bolus also significantly increased the erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase activities (P < 0·001) and serum vitamin B12 concentrations (P < 0·001) when compared with the controls but were not significantly different from the zinc group. The copper bolus significantly increased all of the copper status indicators (P < 0·01) when compared with the control and zinc groups. However, in trial 1 when only the zinc and control groups were compared, the zinc bolus significantly increased the ratio (P < 0·001) and serum caeruloplasmin (P < 0·001) and erythrocyte superoxide dismutase (P < 0·01) activities. These responses were not observed in trial 2 with the erythrocyte superoxide dismutase being significantly reduced in the zinc group when compared with the control group (P < 0·001).
The zinc, cobalt and selenium soluble glass bolus increased the status of all three trace elements consistently for a period of at least 100 days. The increases of cobalt and selenium status were similar to those achieved using the copper, cobalt and selenium bolus, which also increased the copper status of the sheep.