Coppice willow in an agroforestry system

Cobalt is an essential trace element for sheep used to make vitamin B12 which supports growth.  However, cobalt deficiency (also known as ill thrift/pine) can be common in weaned lambs.  This can cause significant production losses even at a sub clinical level due to poor growth rates.

Innovative Farmers are launching a new field lab where farmers will be feeding willow to lambs and measuring their cobalt levels against a control group, coordinated by Soil Association with University of Nottingham as researchers. An Agroforestry Learning Network will be run alongside the trials, managed by the Soil Association, discussing the practicalities of feeding willow to lambs.

Grass pasture rarely meets the daily requirement for lambs throughout the season and is actually lower in the dry summer months when weaned lambs should be at maximum growth rates. Cobalt and/or vitamin B12 are therefore often supplemented.  However, administering boluses and drenches adds cost both in terms of product and time to administer, and free access supplements cannot guarantee consistent intakes in all animals.

Willow leaves have been shown to have high concentrations of cobalt, there has been some research into feeding willow as a cobalt supplement and some farmers have begun to feed or are considering feeding willow to their lambs as a cobalt supplement. 

In this field lab, a farmer in Northumberland will be trialing the benefits of feeding willow to his weaned lambs throughout the growing season, comparing growth rates and blood cobalt levels in a control sample and a willow fed sample. As well as this main trial, six mini trials will be run on different farms, all looking at the same topic, monitoring lamb growth rates when fed on willow.

Alongside the trials, a new agroforestry learning network has been launched, specifically focusing on the benefits of feeding willow to lambs. The group will meet quarterly to link farmers together to help share their knowledge and experiences on the practicalities of feeding willow to lambs.  The group includes experts in the fields of mineral nutrition and agroforestry planting, and there will be guest speakers at the meetings. 

To register interest and join the network get in touch:  [email protected] / 01173 145109

To find out more see the Innovative Farmers website

Related Organisations

Content below is from across the PEP community and is not necessarily endorsed by Stewards or by PEP

Connected Content

Agroforestry is the practice of combining agricultural crops or livestock with trees and shrubs. It is a great example of agroecology in action.  Agroforestry provides healthier soil, higher yields and vital homes for wildlife. 

Write whatever you want here - this is the main section. You can add links, add pictures and embed videos. To paste text from elsewhere use CTRL+Shift+V to paste without formatting. Add videos by selecting 'Full HTML' below, copying the 'embed html' from the source page (eg Youtube), clicking 'Source' above and pasting where you want the video to appear.
You can upload an image here. It can be jpg, jpeg, gif or png format.
Upload requirements

You can upload a file here, such as a pdf report, or MS Office documents, Excel spreadsheet or Powerpoint Slides.

Upload requirements
Authors Order
Add Authors here - you can only add them if they already exist on PEP. Just start writing their name then select to add it. To add multiple authors click the 'Add another item' button below.

Please ensure that you have proof-read your content. Pages are not edited further once submitted and will go live immediately.