B is for Bolus

3 red/golden coloured calves looking through the bars of a metal feed barrier. The photo has been edited to add brown antlers to one calf and a red and gold bauble a the front of them with a gold number 2 on it.

It’s day 2 of this Farm Dictionary themed Advent Calendar, and I thought since it’s coming up to the time where we need to mineral bolus the cattle here, that would be a good topic for the letter B.

Bolus – Object deposited down the throat of a cow or sheep which remains in its stomach for some time, and sometimes permanently. Used for long-term administration of minerals and vitamins or medicines, or as a secure location for an identifying electronic chip.

Boluses typically look like cylindrical tablets of varying sizes, depending on the size of the animals they’re being used in and what they contain, and are used for a whole variety of things. Once given to the sheep or cow via a bolus gun (a tube with a plunger on, used to drop the bolus over the back of the animal’s tongue), it’ll sit in a compartment of their stomach (the reticulum- but we’ll get to that when ‘R’ rolls around) and either stay there for good or slowly erode and release the nutrients it contains over a set period of time.

Several years ago, we began using mineral boluses in our cattle.

We’d been having some trouble with calves being born quite dopey and slow to get going, and even with one or two being born unable to see properly. It was pointing to the cows not getting enough of certain minerals and vitamins during their final stages of pregnancy. Testing the forage they were eating and our grass and soils also confirmed we were very low on some vital nutrients needed for calf health, so they needed to be supplemented from elsewhere.

We’d been using buckets containing hard, molasses-based licks filled with minerals, for the cows to lick as they pleased, but there was no way of knowing how much each cow was getting, or whether some were getting any at all. So, we looked into boluses.

With a bolus, you know every cow has had the exact amount they need, including the ones at the bottom of the pecking order who never get a look-in at the sweetie-like licks.

Touch wood, since bolusing the cows around 2 months before they’re due to calve, with a mineral bolus containing the nutrients our farm is lacking in, we haven’t had a problem with calves who are slow to try and get up and suck, or had any born with temporary blindness.

This year, we’ve got another type of bolus to give to one cow too…

As well as ones containing minerals and vitamins, and ones containing a worming product that releases slowly over time, you can get ones which contain a magnet.

The magnet also sits in the animal’s stomach, but it remains there permanently, hopefully catching any accidentally ingested metal before it gets the chance to do any damage.

We’ve got a cow who just doesn’t seem 100%. Everything is normal with her, she’s not lame or ill, but she’s got a very slight arch to her back which can signal pain. We’ve ruled out foot problems and serious illness, so we’re going to try bolus her with a magnet in case she has a piece of metal that’s piercing her stomach wall.

Hopefully, if that’s the case, it should draw whatever it is out and hold onto it, so it can’t do any damage. If it isn’t, it’s a pain-free step we can take to rule another thing out, and we’ll carry on the quest to get to the bottom of it.

2 thoughts on “B is for Bolus

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