Cobalt Deficiency in Sheep


Trace minerals are essential to an animal for normal health and productivity. They act as the keys that assist in the utilisation of energy and protein within the body. As such they are important for normal growth, meat, wool and milk production, fertility and immunity. Trace minerals are required constantly but at certain times such as during the growth of a young animal, pregnancy and lactation or when experiencing increased stress for whatever reason, the animal’s demand can increase.

Deficiencies can present either as overt clinical disease or, more commonly, subclinically with less obvious signs but still significant productivity losses. If clinical disease is present this is often the “tip of the iceberg” and many more animals are deficient and not showing obvious signs.

Deficiencies of selenium cobalt and copper are common in ruminants in many parts of Australia. We will cover cobalt deficiency in the next section.

Importance of Vitamin B12

Cobalt is a trace element which is utilised by rumen microbes to synthesise Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for carbohydrate metabolism and protein synthesis and is important for production of red blood cells and nervous system function.

Areas where cobalt deficiency occurs include acidic, sandy or volcanic soils, irrigated and improved pasture, high rainfall regions (>450mm per year), weathered, leached or intensively cropped land and areas of heavy liming of pasture. In parts of Australia, cobalt deficiency is called “Coast Disease” because it is more prevalent along some coastal areas. Like selenium, pasture cobalt content is diluted during periods of rapid pasture growth.


Signs of Vitamin B12 (cobalt) deficiency may be vague and non-specific, however there are some clues that can be suggestive. Deficient stock will show ill-thrift, reduced growth rates, reduced wool, meat and milk production, poor immune function and reduced appetite. Some clinical signs include scaly ears and around the eyes, and anaemia.


Confirming a diagnosis of Vitamin B12 deficiency can be done via blood or liver tests. If the results show a deficiency is present, then treatment is advisable. However, often a suitable way to confirm deficiency is via a treatment trial. Treating animals suspected of being deficient and then observing a response is usually a strong indication of a deficiency. As Vitamin B12 is very safe, there is no physiological harm in dosing animals which are not deficient.

Providing Vitamin B12 via injection is simple and can be done whenever stock are being handled for whatever reason. Treatment is advisable during winter, spring and summer. Timing treatment to occur at weaning, pre-joining, pre-lambing or pre-joining will meet periods of increased demand. Treating before breeding will also benefit the foetus in the mother’s uterus ensuring they have enough Vitamin B12 early in life.

Cobalife and Cobalife + Se

Cobalife is a convenient, low dose volume subcutaneous injection of Vitamin B12 for sheep and cattle. There are two formulations. Cobalife VB12 contains 2mg Vitamin B12 (as hydroxocobalamin) and Cobalife VB12 + Selenium contains 2mg Vitamin B12 (as hydroxocobalamin) and 4mg Selenium (as sodium selenate). Hydroxocobalamin is specifically included because it is a longer acting form of Vitamin B12 as compared to cyanocobalamin found in some other Vitamin B12 supplements. There are no withholding periods for Cobalife products.

Cobalt Deficiency in Sheep