A family farming partnership that runs one of the largest registered herds of Welsh Blacks in Wales has seen stock health improve dramatically since it started bolusing the herd to correct trace element deficiencies.

Rhun and Rhidian Jones, who run the Eirog herd of pedigree Welsh Blacks with their father, Gwynfor, say inadequate levels of copper, iodine, selenium and cobalt had led to prolonged calvings and poor performance.

They knew the stock weren’t getting enough of these trace elements and had worked with their vet to find solutions.

“Initially we used individual injections of selenium, copper and iodine, but we were still getting calves born that were dopey and with thyroid problems,” says Rhun. “Calves just weren’t growing as they should. We could see cattle weren’t getting enough copper just by looking at their coats. Instead of having the jet-black coats you expect to see in Welsh Blacks, they had a reddish tinge.”

Five years ago the Joneses began dosing the herd with boluses that slowly release these trace elements over six months. Since then, fertility has improved, there are fewer retained afterbirths and calves are born stronger.

“We have been giving cows two boluses two months before calving and it really has made a difference,” says Rhun, of Llwyniorwerth Uchaf, Capel Bangor, Aberystwyth. “We found stock weren’t getting enough trace elements from bought-in concentrates, grass and silage, but now that they do, we have a much better success rate for getting cows back in calf. We have noticed calves born to cows that have been bolused are on their feet straight away, are lively and suckle immediately.”

The Eirog herd, which block-calves in spring and autumn, has been in the family for more than 170 years. There are currently 100 suckler cows and followers and the business produces bull beef, replacement heifers and breeding bulls.

The bull beef, reared on a 14% ration at 13ME, is sold at 14-17 months to independent butchers. The animals are also given straw for roughage and minerals to balance the diet. “We also bolus the calves at four weeks with a bolus containing copper, selenium, iodine and cobalt,” says Rhidian.

“It gets their muscles growing and it also helps them to build up a good immunity. We know it is working because their coats are jet black.”

During winter, calves are housed, but spring-calving cows and calves are out-wintered. Cows’ sole diet is grass, silage and straw.

The family runs four Welsh black bulls with the herd and AI their best cows with semen from their top bulls.

“We like to breed a smart animal with a head that’s not too large, a straight top line, straight legs, good feet and a good udder for the cows and a good back end for the bulls,” says Rhun.

As well as the Welsh Black enterprise, the business also runs a flock of 1700 sheep, mainly South Wales Welsh Mountain ewes, but Easy Care rams have recently been introduced.

Rhidian says the health policy for the sheep is the same as for the cattle. Ewes are given three boluses at pre-tupping and pre-lambing. “We get the same results with the sheep as we do with the cows,” he says.

“Lambs are on their feet and suckling immediately and we rarely get any infections. We put it down to the selenium in the bolus and the better-quality colostrum.

“When ewes are getting enough trace elements, they will have better colostrum and this will be passed on to the lambs to make their immune systems stronger.”