Lambs at pasture© Tim Scrivener

Farmers are being urged to be vigilant for signs of cobalt deficiency in sheep in the coming weeks.

The latest disease alert issued by the National Animal Disease Information Service (Nadis) has warned producers to be aware of cobalt deficiency (pine) in weaned lambs, which is most commonly seen at pasture in late summer/autumn.

Cobalt is an important constituent of vitamin B12, which is produced in the rumen, and a lack of the trace element can result in ill thrift, poor growth and condition, lethargy, reduced appetite and poor-quality wool.

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After a few months, a lamb suffering from pine will develop pale mucous membranes (eyes) and there might be tear-staining of the cheeks.

Ovine white liver syndrome is seen in severe cases and the clinical signs of this are nervous behaviours, such as depression, head pressing and aimless wandering.

It can be hard to identify because many of the clinical symptoms are similar to those of parasitic diseases such as liver fluke, so it is important to consult your vet if you suspect an issue.

There are drenches and boluses containing cobalt which can be used as supplements to prevent pine.

If an animal is already deficient, treatment with cobalt sulphate may be effective and vitamin B12 can be administered by intramuscular injection, but a vet should be involved in diagnosis and treatment.