Supplementation of Vitamin B12 in Cattle and Sheep to Prevent Deficiency

Interestingly, cattle and sheep may need supplementation with B12. In a way it makes sense; if people can’t get B12 through fruit and veg anymore because of our farming ways, how are especially factory farm animals going to get their B12? Well, just like us: through a supplement. Which makes the B12-reason to eat animal products somewhat invalid.

B12 injection, cattle and sheep may need it too.

B12 injections, cattle and sheep may get them too.

Original article: Vitamin B12 deficiency  (source was Ancare (Australia) at the time but the company seems to have been taken over).

Vitamin B12 Deficiency in animals is the end result of insufficient Cobalt intake. Cobalt is acquired from the pasture and soil as animals feed and is used to make Vitamin B12 by micro-organisms with the rumen (2nd stomach). Vitamin B12 is then absorbed in the small intestine and transported throughout the body by the blood, with excess being stored in the liver. A female animal will provide B12 to a growing foetus, but will not supply any of the vitamin in its milk.

The amount of Cobalt available to animals varies as a result of several different factors. The amount of Cobalt occurring naturally in the soil varies according to the type of rock from which the soil is derived. The amount then available for uptake by the pasture is influenced by the presence of other minerals (e.g. Manganese) and supplements (e.g. lime), which can bind the Cobalt in the soil and prevent its absorption by plants.

Rainfall can also play a major role, with high rainfall leading to leaching of Cobalt from the topsoil into the lower soil layers. This can be seen as a seasonal effect where rainfall is concentrated at one time of the year.

The type and condition of the pasture can also pay a major role. In general, grasses take up less Cobalt than legumes and lush, fast-growing pastures absorb Cobalt at a lower rate than slower growing pastures.

These factors mean that coastal areas are particularly prone to Cobalt deficiency and the deficiency has been well documented in coastal southern Australia. Cobalt deficiency has, however, also been identified in many inland parts of Australia.

Vitamin B12 is essential for cell growth and maturation, energy production and wool growth. In general, sheep are more susceptible to Vitamin B12 deficiency than cattle are. Rapidly growing animals (i.e. lambs/calves and weaners) are most likely to develop a B12 deficiency and will suffer most badly when a deficiency develops. 

Clinical signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency include weight loss, suppressed appetite, decreased feed efficiency, anaemia, diarrhoea, rough coat, scaly ears and weepy eyes. These signs may occur in different combinations and the clinical picture is often not very clear. In many cases B12 deficiency manifests as a wasting disease and, in severe cases, the mortality rate may be high. Like most diseases, however, far greater economic losses result from undetected subclinical disease causing reduced production than from clinical outbreaks. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to reduced fertility, lower birth rates and birth weights, reduced growth rates, and reduced wool growth and wool quality.

Vitamin B12 deficiency also impairs the immune function of animals so that they are more likely to acquire infectious diseases and will suffer worse when infected. Animals that are deficient in B12 are likely to carry a higher worm burden than they otherwise would. The high worm burden causes scours and damage to the wall of the intestine so that less B12 is absorbed in the gut and the immune system is suppressed even further. Thus, a vicious circle leading to severe disease is created.

It is important to remember that the animals that are most susceptible to Vitamin B12 deficiency are also those that are most susceptible to infection with worms. Good worm control allows animals to make best use of the Cobalt that is available in the environment and prevents worm populations from taking advantage of an animal’s depressed immune system. Prevention of Vitamin B12 deficiency allows animals to withstand worms better and minimises the required frequency of drenching. B12 also helps in the repair of damage after a worm burden has been removed. It is therefore good practice to consider treatment programmes for the two diseases together rather than in isolation.

Prevention or treatment of B12 deficiency is best achieved by providing a Vitamin B12 supplement directly to the animals. It is important to know the level of deficiency to determine the frequency with which animals may require supplementation. The level of Vitamin B12 deficiency can be assessed easily using a blood test. In cases where subclinical deficiencies are suspected, at least 10 individuals from the most susceptible class of animal should be tested at the most critical time of the year.

In areas where the Vitamin B12 deficiency is marginal, treatment of the susceptible causes of animals (i.e. lambs, calves and pregnant animals) may be sufficient to prevent problems and minimise production losses. In areas with severe deficiency problems, treatment of all animals may be required on an ongoing basis.

Is is good practice to provide all animals entering a feedlot with a B12 supplement as part of their induction programme. In cases of even marginal deficiency, the B12 will enhance the animals’ appetite, getting them onto feed quicker and providing better feed efficiency and improved weight gains (as demonstrated by the 17kg weight advantage in below graph – for graph, please see .pdf file at top of page)


  1. ” if people can’t get B12 through fruit and veg anymore because of our farming ways”
    People can’t get enough B12 from fruit and vegetables because fruit and vegetable don’t contain enough B12. it’s nothing to do with how we farm them. Sustainable, organic fruit n veg doesn’t contain enough B12. Even blackberries gathered from the wild don’t contain enough B12.
    We need supplements.

    The article contains a very nice graph (click on the the link above or go to and scroll to the bottom) which appears to show that vitamin B12 injections for animals are utterly pointless (there’s no difference bewteen the 3 different injections used or the control group – animals which didn’t get a B12 injection)!

    • Hi Ian, thank you for reading and taking the time to reply 🙂
      The graph refers to weight gain, I’m not sure what you think it refers to?
      B12 is produced by bacteria that live in soil and ends up in the gut of animals who eat from the land (including us). There they keep producing B12. The reason I posted this article is because it points out that animals need to be supplemented with B12, which means they can’t get it through their food either. And if they can’t, then eating animals for B12 is not a valid reason anymore. That was my logic 😉

      • Hey so just curious on this: it would make sense through this logic not to eat cows for b-12 because they are being injected. But what about oysters? I’m fairly sure they aren’t injecting oysters with b-12 and they are suppose to be a pretty good source. Just wondering what your thoughts would be toward this?

        • Hi JH, thanks for your message 🙂
          My reply to your post, is that I don’t particularly care about oysters being a good source of B12, as I don’t eat any animals 😉 Not sure what I could say; I can’t argue with what is a source of what, and certain animals products just are a good source of B12. My thoughts are; leave them alone 🙂

        • Just take a supplement, that way nobody has to die for you B12. 🙂

        • I think she’s trying to say that because our farming has sterilized soil and processed the animals’ foods, B12 is no longer present in sufficient amounts; therefore, animals need a B12 supplement. About the oysters: if oysters are getting the cobalt and B12 from their diet, they won’t need the supplement.

  2. Love the article, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Morals are constructed by humans and there is no absolute truth, so people can say sth like “i don’t eat dairy products, cause i don’t want to contribute to the suffering of other beings”, but they shouldn’t say what’s wrong or what’s right, nor think there is a wrong or a right.

    • Hi Mowwgglii,

      Thank you for your response 🙂 Humans construct morals, true (I think even some animals have been shown to have some kind of moral) and they are there to be disagreed with by people with other morals. What is wrong and right we all have different ideas about, but there are some basic ones: hurting, abusing of any kind is wrong, and so is killing on purpose. We all agree on that. Next is the question if hurting and killing non-human animals is wrong, and this is where the opinions are divided.
      I think we are all allowed to have our own wrongs and rights, for if there are none, everything goes, and I hardly can imagine we want a world where ANYthing goes. Raise your child and you are telling him or her what is right or wrong, even if you own a dog you are telling them what is right and wrong. We do it all the time. It’s good to question these things though, be aware of our patterns 🙂

      • Shachie Aranke says

        A lot of the morals you mention come from a biblical outlook in which nature and animals are there for the use of human beings. Animals may not even have souls according to the biblical perspective. It leads to the differentiating killing animals versus killing human beings. You can see how this leads to an attitude that nature and animals are there only for the use of human beings and can be dominated. You can see the impact of such thinking on the earth today, wiping out of the species, cruelties of factory farming, etc. Indigenous and Dharmic cultures (Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jain) view all beings including human beings as a part of nature and that goal is harmonious and least violent living. Nature is seen as Divine and Mother Nature.

        We should see the consequences of our philosophical outlook and then decide which way promotes harmony, happininess for all beings, and the least violence.

        • Hi Shachie,

          Thank you for your reply 🙂 I can’t really say which morals come from the bible – what was there first, the bible or the author, but I totally agree with your saying we should see the consequences of our actions and re-think, in literally all aspects of life, and especially where we use our environment. You’d hope more people will start realizing we are not a kind mankind and we can do MUCH better.

          Thank you for posting 🙂

  4. Lynn Simpson says

    B12 is manufactured by the same pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines – Merck, Pfizer, Glaxo and Sanofi. It was originally bacteria extracted from raw cow liver in 1926 then synthesized and touted as a miracle cure for anemia.

    The truth is that there’s no such thing as B12 deficiency. Neither human nor animal have any need for what’s called “vitamin B12.” It’s the same random bacterium and microorganisms used in antibiotics. And it destroys all beneficial naturally-occurring gut bacteria just like antibiotics do. High doses of B12 have been linked to increased cancer risk in 2 recent studies. It’s been proven to cause severe skin outbreaks and acne. Many long-term vegans never even heard of B12 for decades, nor did they lick dirt, eat manure, eat unwashed fruits or vegetables or drink unfiltered water.

    If you trust pharma to have your best interests at heart, you’re probably suffering from B12 toxicity.

    • Hi Lynn,

      Would you care to elaborate on your post? As far as I know B12 is not a bacterium but produced by bacteria, and I am keen to find more information about it being harmful to our gut 🙂
      The reason why I posted this article, by the way, was not because I wanted to state whether or not we should take B12, but to point out that the argument that we should eat animals products to obtain B12, is not valid as even animals get supplemented with it.

      Have a great day,


  5. Great article! Thanks for pointing out scientific evidence in an easy-understandable language! Most of the scientific reports are hard work to translate into a common everyday language!

  6. The post by Lynn Simpson is so erroneous that it should be removed so as not to confuse people or spread misinformation. Presumably they are a crazy paleo or raw food anti-vaxxer trying to freak out vegans?

    Firstly B12 is manufactured by a simple fermentation process by a handful of companies, including none of the above (Sanofi in France is the sole European Vitamin B12 manufacturer, the rest in China).

    So what if the companies also make vaccines (they don’t), it’s not like they make them in the same pots or even factories, or that they have anything in common.

    Secondly, the isolation of B12 did not happen until after WWII. There was no “taken from liver”. What did happen in 1926 was that it was discover raw liver treated pernicious anaemia which, had up until then, been a fatal condition. Nothing was “taken”, people literally used to drink glasses of juiced raw liver. [Minot and Murphy] It’s made from Propionibacterium which are a family of common bacteria found on human skin, used in cheese making and so on.

    “Theres no such thing as B12 deficiency. Neither human nor animal have any need for what’s called “vitamin B12.” ” is such dangerous anti-science nonsense that could literally kill people. All mammals need B12. Humans cannot reliably consume the B12 their bodies produce because it happens in the wrong part of the gut. So ridiculous, it is hardly worth commenting on. B12 is not a vaccine nor an antibiotics!

    High doses of B12 are actually used to treat cyanide poisoning (because the compound actually removes it from the body). We are talking about doses the equivalent of 200 years’ worth.

    I suppose “B12 causes cancer” is a scare tactic. What studies have shown is that some cancers may affect B12 metabolism. The absolute opposite. It’s not that the B12 is causing the cancer, it is that the cancer is causing elevated above the normal B12 levels (>1,000 pmol/L).

    B12 does not cause “severe skin outbreaks and acne”. What they are referring to is a reaction to very high doses of B12 injection during the “loading phases” of treatments for anaemia or B12 defficiency (which they also claim does not exist) … in people who were acne prone. During this phase individuals typically take 1mg in 1ml solution injected, once every two days for a fortnight to build up their stores of it. So being “acne prone” is a pre-requirement.

    Normal daily requirements are 2.4 mcg. 1mg is 1000 mcg or 416 times. Yes, some individuals can react to such high doses in a variety of ways but return to normal one the phases stops and do not re-occur during the normal treatment, eg 1mg per 2 months, or via daily ingestion. It relates solely to high dose injected B12 and methylcobalamin not cyanocobalamin.

    “Many long-term vegans never even heard of B12 for decades”. Difficult to know what they mean here. Veganism started in 1944 before B12 was isolated but they quickly became aware of it as some early vegans *did* suffer B12 deficiencies therefore the society raised awareness of it and start recommending supplementation. As we know, the body stores years worth of it. Without evidence or case studies, such claims can be ignored.

    “B12 toxicity”, there is no such thing.

    Please remove that comment, it is dangerous. B12 deficiency has the potential to cause permanent nerve damage.

    • Hi NB,

      Thank you for your extensive reply. As long as people ‘behave’, they can post most things here. I absolutely see that Lynn Simpson’s reply was quite out there, and hence I did ask for elaboration. Unfortunately, if people don’t cite their sources, it’s hard to know what is true or not. (And even if they do, we all tend to choose whom we believe or not). So, I’ll leave her comment, but yours is here too to be a counterweight. I do hope that people do their own research and make their own decisions 🙂

      Thank you!


  7. I would love someone to find the original source of this information on cattle receiving supplemental vitamin B12. I am creating a presentation on this topic and need legit references, not this website. Thanks for the info, but an official reference would be appreciated. Thanks.

    • Hi Jackson,

      The article that’s linked to this particular page (see link just below the needle photo at the top) came from a company that doesn’t exist as such anymore, it seems. However, I just did a search for ‘B12 supplementation in sheep’ and other pages did pop up, by suppliers. I’m sure you too can find a few of those files and I hope they will be sufficient for your project. Maybe it is useful to search for cobalt depletion too.

Speak Your Mind