An experiment was conducted with 84 suckling Scottish Blackface twin lambs on an improved hill pasture with a history of cobalt deficiency and molybdenum/sulphur-induced copper deficiency. The dams of 13 pairs of twins were treated with 90 mg copper at parturition (Cue) and one member of each pair was given a cobalt bullet (Co + ). One member of each of a further 29 pairs was treated periodically with 5 to 15mg copper to maintain plasma copper concentrations >0·6mg/l (Cu+) while their siblings received no supplementary copper (Cu). Fourteen of these pairs also received a cobalt bullet (Co + ). Lambs not treated with cobalt are designated Co−.
The Cue treatment increased milk copper concentrations, but only for a short time, and resulted in transitory increases in lamb plasma copper concentrations and rate of live-weight gain. At the end of the grazing phase, at approximately 20 weeks of age, Cu+ lambs had gained 0-28 kg more weight than Cue lambs and 158 kg more than Cue lambs, and had higher liver copper concentrations. Cu+ and Cue lambs had heavier and fatter empty bodies and carcasses than Cu− lambs. The cobalt treatment produced no effects at this stage.
Fifty-four of the lambs were housed and given dried grass pellets ad libitum. After 83 days liver copper concentrations were higher in Co− than Co+ lambs, and in Cu+ than in Cu− and Cue lambs. The copper treatments had no effect on rate or efficiency of live-weight gain, but Co− lambs gained weight more quickly and more efficiently than Co+ lambs.