Changes in serum concentrations of methylmalonic acid and vitamin B12 in cobalt-supplemented ewes and their lambs on two cobalt-deficient properties

Changes in serum concentrations of methylmalonic acid and vitamin B12  in cobalt-supplemented ewes and their lambs on two cobalt-deficient properties
Peer reviewed


AIM: To determine concurrent changes in serum methylmalonic acid (MMA) and vitamin B12 concentrations of ewes and their lambs on cobalt-deficient properties, subsequent to cobalt supplementation.
METHODS: Three experiments were carried out on two farms. Groups of ewes (n=25–50) were either supplemented with cobalt bullets during late pregnancy, 23–47 days before the mean lambing date, or left unsupplemented. In two experiments, lambs from within each group were supplemented directly by vitamin B12 injection at 3-weekly intervals from birth, and in the third experiment by injection with micro-encapsulated vitamin B12 at tailing and 3 months later. Pasture samples were obtained for analysis of cobalt content at each sampling time. Blood samples were obtained and liveweight recorded from ewes and lambs at approximately monthly intervals. On one farm (two experiments), liver and milk samples were obtained from ewes and liver samples from lambs.
RESULTS: Serum vitamin B12 concentrations in unsupplemented ewes fell below 250 pmol/L during early lactation in all experiments and mean concentrations as low as 100 pmol/L were recorded. MMA concentration was maintained below 2 µmol/L in serum from supplemented ewes but increased to mean concentrations ranging from 7 to14 µmol/L at the nadir of serum vitamin B12 concentration during peak lactation. A significant liveweight response to supplementation was recorded in ewes on one property, and the vitamin B12 concentration in the ewes’ milk and in the livers of their lambs more than doubled. No liveweight-gain response to supplementation was observed in lambs on this property. Mean serum MMA concentrations in lambs ranged from <2 in supplemented, to 19.2 µmol/L in unsupplemented lambs, and the latter had concurrent serum vitamin B12 concentrations of >300 pmol/L. Pasture cobalt concentration was lowest at 0.04–0.09 µg/kg dry matter (DM) on the property on which responses in lambs occurred but considerably higher (>0.09 µg/kg DM) on the property on which responses in ewes occurred. On the second property, serum vitamin B12 concentrations in lambs at tailing were extremely low (100 pmol/L), irrespective of supplementation of dams with cobalt. Mean serum MMA concentration was increased to 20 and 42 µmol/L in lambs from supplemented and non-supplemented ewes, respectively. Weight-gain response to direct supplementation of lambs with vitamin B12 occurred during suckling in the latter, but not the former. Lambs from ewes supplemented with vitamin B12 showed a much bigger increase in serum vitamin B12 concentrations a month after supplementation than did lambs from unsupplemented ewes (+1,400 pmol/L vs + 650 pmol/L).
CONCLUSIONS: Serum MMA concentration gave a more precise indication of responsiveness to vitamin B12 or cobalt supplementation than serum vitamin B12 concentrations in ewes and lambs. Neither very low serum vitamin B12 nor elevated MMA concentrations were necessarily indicative of responsiveness to supplementation in suckling lambs, but the latter gave an early indication of impending responsiveness. Supplementation of the ewe with a cobalt bullet appeared to protect the growth performance of the lamb for 90 days and influence the subsequent serum vitamin B12 response in the lamb to vitamin B12 supplementation.
CLINICAL SIGNIFICANCE: Supplementing ewes with cobalt bullets in late pregnancy can improve the vitamin B12 status of their lambs, and modify their response to vitamin B12 supplementation.
KEY WORDS: Ewes, lambs, serum vitamin B12, serum methylmalonic acid, cobalt supplementation

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