Known by various names (in Western Australia it is called ‘Denmark Wasting Disease’), this debilitating ailment afflicts sheep and cattle and occurs in coastal regions with good grass cover over sand and shell-based soils.

Coast Disease was widespread in South Australia when, in 1934, EW ‘Ted’ Lines, field officer, and RG ‘Dick’ Thomas, geochemist, of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Division of Animal Nutrition, Adelaide, discovered that it was caused by deficiency of cobalt, later shown as essential for vitamin B12 production. Acting chief of division, Hedley Marston, at first highly sceptical, was soon convinced. At the 1935 ANZAAS Conference Marston announced the discovery with a flourish – and thereafter usurped control of the research program. Experiments at a field station on the Dawson family farm near Robe in the South East found that heavy slow-release cobalt pellets fed to sheep would lodge in the rumen and provide the necessary trace element supplement. Including cobalt and other trace-elements in broad-acre fertiliser mixes led to a significant enhancement in the quality of these soils around the world.

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Lines, EW, ‘The effect of the ingestion of minute quantities of cobalt by sheep affected with “Coast Disease”: A preliminary note’, Journal of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, 8:1, 1935, pp117–19

McDonald, I, ‘Ruminant nutrition: Reminiscences of Australian research’, Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 44, 1993, pp347–61

Marston, HR, ‘Problems associated with Coast Disease in South Australia’, Journal of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, 8:4, 1935, pp111–16

Underwood, EJ, ‘The cobalt story’, Records of the Australian Academy of Science, 2:2, 1971, pp23–28