Weaning lambs: The small issue that can create big problems

In the most part, we’ve gotten pretty good at managing lambs at grazing. But we MUST acknowledge that EVEN IF lambs are getting enough energy and protein from a grass-based diet, their full growth potential WILL NOT be reached if they’re not getting enough trace elements. It’s equally vital to understand that supplementation is not black and white.

We’ve got you covered with this blog post that puts the lens on lamb weaning timing and procedures, with a vital deep-dive into the trace element nutrition at weaning.

Pre-weaning checklist

To keep weaning stress to an absolute minimum, ewes and lambs should be prepared several weeks before weaning. This includes:

  • Vaccinating lambs as required.
  • Cutting out nuts or rolls from ewe diets.
  • Grazing conditioned ewes on poorer quality leafy pastures.
  • Train lambs prior to weaning to use creep gates and feeders for access to better feed.
  • Testing grass for trace element levels, supplementing as required.
  • Tag lambs soon after lambing to minimise mix ups and further stress at weaning.
  • Check out the AHDB Resource: Breeding from ewe lambs.

Post-weaning checklist

To get breeding ewes in the right condition for tupping and to keep lamb performance where it needs to be, regular monitoring and close management after weaning is key.

  • Monitor ewes for signs of mastitis.
  • Maintain foot health using AHDB guidelines.
  • Implement an effective parasite (fluke, worm, and fly) control regime.
  • Graze swards down to 6cm.
  • Regularly weigh lambs to track growth rates, using targets set out by FAS as a guide:
    • Target > 150 grams/day on pasture and aftermath
    • Target > 180 grams/day on aftermath or high clover sward
    • Target > 200 grans/day on forage crops and herbal leys
    • Target > 300 grams/day on red clover and creep feeding

When to investigate trace element deficiencies in lambs

In an ideal world, soil and/or grass would have been tested before weaning to establish a trace element supplementation strategy. Lambs would have been bolused accordingly before weaning to ensure an adequate supply at a time where stress and nutrition demands are at their possible highest.

However, if you didn’t bolus and all lambs are free of health issues and able to get their fair share of adequate nutrition BUT are not growing at your target rate, you must put the lens on possible trace element (mineral) deficiencies. Act fast! Blood sample a representative number of lambs and consult with your vet and/or SQP to determine a supplementation strategy for overcoming any deficiencies quickly.

4 trace element facts you need to know about

  1. Almost all soil and grass in the UK and Ireland is deficient in cobalt, copper, iodine, and selenium.
  2. Lambs are often naturally exposed to trace element antagonists – such as iron, manganese, sulphur, aluminium, and molybdenum – that can compromise trace element uptake.
  3. Trace element levels can fluctuate during the grazing season. When grass grows fast, trace element levels tend to dilute.
  4. On grazing systems, cobalt deficiency is the most common culprit for poor condition and performance. Selenium, iodine and copper are often deficient on root crops.

How to shop for the best trace element bolus

If a trace element deficiency is identified, now is to consider which supplementation option is right for you. Precision trace element nutrition – that is the supply of enough so not too much and not too little – is particularly difficult to get right at micro trace element levels. We’re talking milligrams here.

While feed and licks are great for offering a complete supplementation package of both energy, macronutrients and micronutrients, bolusing is the ONLY supplementation option we can count on for a daily supply of trace elements for in the right amounts to all lambs over a sustained period. It’s really the “Ferrari” of trace element supplementation!

Step 1: Compare the trace element levels


Trace element levels (mg, total)

Bolus    number required Suitable liveweight Duration of cover

Mode of action



Copper Iodine


Bimeda® Cosecure Lamb


2100 24 1 6+

weeks old

180 days


Agrimin Smartrace Lamb


108 24 2 25 kg + 120 days



All guard Lamb


375 35 1 1.2 kg+ DMI 180 days


ANIMAX Tracesure® Lamb




315 50 1 15 kg + 180 days


Step 2: Consider the trace element types

  • ANIMAX Tracesure® offers copper in the form of copper oxide needles that are uniquely manufactured in-house to both medicinal and nutritional standards. The mode of action ensures the copper is available to the ruminant.
  • ANIMAX Tracesure® offers a form of cobalt that is available in the rumen where the bacteria can utilise it.
  • ANIMAX Tracesure® contains two types of iodine to provide an immediate supply as well as a longer-term supply.
  • ANIMAX Tracesure® with its specialist diffusion technology, contains high levels of selenium in a safe form.

Step 3: Understand the mode of action

Eroding, dissolving, and oxidising boluses get smaller and lighter over time, and can even break up into multiple pieces – increasing the risk of regurgitation or passing before the promoted duration of cover. ANIMAX Tracesure® Lamb features patented diffusion technology® designed to retain size and weight, and the trace elements diffuse out of the unique binder.

With diffusion technology®, the rate of release is safe and consistent over a 6-month period with little risk of regurgitation.

Qualified for the Sheep Improvement Scheme and approved for use on organic systems*

*ANIMAX Tracesure® (no-copper) boluses are approved by the Soil Association (UK) and Irish Organic Association (Ireland) for use on organic systems. ANIMAX Copinox® medicinal copper capsules can be offered alongside the lamb bolus, under derogation.

Lamb growth rates UK study

A group of Lleyn Charollais lambs born in March and April were split into a non-bolus group and a group bolused with ANIMAX Tracesure® Lamb without copper in the following July. The DLWG was measured for the following 3-month period.

The group bolused with ANIMAX Tracesure® Lamb without copper gained on average 50g more per day than the non-bolus group, gaining an additional 3 kg in total within the first 3 months.

The cost of ANIMAX Tracesure® is 97 pence / €1.14 per lamb*. An additional 3kg is worth approx. £7.89/€9.28 per lamb**.

* As at list price on 01/03/2023. ** Liveweight average price for UK on 05/01/2024. Study reference: On farm investigation of lambs failing to thrive with particular interest in cobalt and copper. Elizabeth Berry (ANIMAX ltd), Stephen Bateson and Paul Birkett (Stormont Veterinary Laboratories) (2015).

Net benefit of £3,385 or €3,980 per 500 lambs.

For supplementation you can COUNT on…

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