Avoiding Copper Toxicity in Goats

copper toxicity

A lot of people have goats with classic symptoms of copper deficiency, but they’re afraid to supplement their goats with copper because they’ve been told that it could be toxic. I can understand their concern.

We thought our goats were copper deficient for TWO YEARS and didn’t supplement. We continued to have problems with infertility, kids being born prematurely, and goats dying while four different vets told me copper deficiency was impossible. To make matters worse, they warned me about the risks of copper toxicity. It wasn’t until I insisted on having a liver tested that my suspicions were confirmed. We had serious copper deficiency problems in our herd. But vets continued to say it was impossible.

This isn’t surprising because back then vets were not taught about copper deficiency in vet school. It’s still not unusual to hear a vet say that copper deficiency is not a problem. In fact, we recently had a pre-vet student intern, and when I talked about supplementing with copper she asked, “Goats can be deficient in copper?” She said that in her animal nutrition class, they had only been taught about the risk of copper toxicity in goats.

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To confuse people even more, it’s not uncommon for people on social media to say that symptoms of copper toxicity and copper deficiency are the same. I’ve looked through all of my veterinary texts, and the only symptom of deficiency that is listed as a symptom of toxicity is anemia. I don’t even usually list anemia as a symptom of deficiency because it only occurs in the most severe cases where you are already seeing all of the outward signs of deficiency — faded coat, fish tails, balding on the face, infertility, abortions, stillborn kids. Plus, almost all anemia in goats is caused by barber pole worm.

But let’s assume that the symptoms are the same. It still would not be difficult to figure out if a goat was suffering from toxicity or deficiency because the cause is very different. If your goats are exposed to copper antagonists, then they are more likely to be deficient in copper.

copper toxicity

Are there copper antagonists on your farm?

Goats can consume enough copper, but if they are also consuming copper antagonists, the copper is not being absorbed as efficiently because the antagonists bind with the copper. If the goat is consuming copper antagonists, this also means that they can be consuming what might otherwise be dangerously high levels of copper, but the antagonists are reducing the absorption. That’s why the amount of copper goats need will vary by farm. So, how do you know how much your goats need?

I’ve seen some people suggest that you find a soil map to see if your soil is deficient in copper. Unfortunately, it’s a misconception that your goats don’t need extra copper if the soil in your area is not copper deficient because that only addresses the issue of primary copper deficiency. That means that looking at maps or getting your soil tested is not really helpful. It can confirm primary copper deficiency but it can’t rule out secondary copper deficiency.

Do you have well water that is high in sulfur (stinky), iron (turns sink orange), or calcium (leaves white deposits)? Those things can bind with copper, making it unavailable, and causing copper deficiency. If you have well water like that, your goats will probably need additional copper beyond the typical mixed loose minerals because the minerals in the water are binding with copper the goat is consuming. Are you within 25 miles of a coal-fired power plant, meaning that you may have sulfur deposits on your pasture? That would reduce the copper that your goats can absorb from their diet.

There can be a high level of molybdenum in alfalfa in some areas (depending upon the soil where the hay was grown), which is also a copper antagonist. Mineral producers actually put molybdenum in sheep minerals to REDUCE copper that sheep absorb from their diet, which is not the best idea and has caused copper deficiency in some sheep. Yes, that means that if your goats eat a high-alfalfa diet, which is necessary for good production, that your goats may need more copper. (This does NOT mean you should stop feeding alfalfa; it only means that your goats may need more copper than they would if they were not eating alfalfa.) The amount of molybdenum in alfalfa can vary from one area to another, and it’s unlikely that alfalfa alone would cause copper deficiency, but if you already have well water with high mineral levels, the molybdenum in alfalfa could make it worse.

What causes copper toxicity in goats?

Primary copper toxicity, which means toxicity caused by diet alone, is almost completely unheard of in the US. Keep in mind that it may not have been caused by too much copper, but could have been caused by a deficiency of an antagonist like sulfur or molybdenum. Goats need sulfur and molybdenum — just not too much! That’s why it’s important that your goats have a good quality, loose mineral that is specifically labeled for goats only (NOT “sheep and goat” minerals).

Almost every case of copper toxicity in the scientific literature was caused by a copper supplement. Copper sulfate is very well absorbed, and it’s usually the form of copper that you find in mixed minerals. Years ago when I was trying to figure out what to do with our goats, I could find only one case study where goats died from copper toxicity. The goats had a cattle mineral available that had 3000 ppm copper sulfate. This is twice as much as what you find in most goat minerals. There are people online who swear by minerals with that much copper for their goats, but I would not recommend that level of copper sulfate for the vast majority of farms.

I know two people who’ve accidentally killed multiple goats with injectable Multi-Min. They died from liver and kidney failure from both copper and selenium toxicity, which was confirmed by lab reports. This is why I don’t recommend injectable copper, and this is why I say you should never try to copy someone else’s management. Conditions are different on every farm, and you need to treat your goats based upon their symptoms.

In the copper survey I did last year, there was someone who said that she accidentally killed a goat with a drench of copper sulfate, and I know other people who’ve had similar experiences.

Searching the veterinary literature for copper toxicity is not for the faint of heart. There are experiments where they have caused death in goats with extremely high levels of copper sulfate that were injected, sometimes intravenously, or given orally. It was always very high levels of copper sulfate, sometimes given for three days in a row before goats started to die, and it didn’t always kill all of the goats. Because the primary symptom of copper toxicity with copper sulfate is abdominal pain, this is a painful death to watch.

I’ve personally read more than 15 studies that used copper oxide wire particles in sheep and goats for parasite control, and there was never a case of toxicity in any of those studies in either goats or the sheep. It’s important to note that sheep have a much lower tolerance for copper than goats. Reading those studies is what finally put my mind at ease. I concluded that if sheep didn’t die from copper toxicity after being given copper oxide wire particles, then my goats would definitely be fine. I’ve been supplementing my goats with COWP since 2007, and we have done numerous liver tests on goats that died, and all of the copper levels have been mid-range normal.

To learn more about copper in goats, click on the links in this article, and sign up for my free online course that includes three videos, as well as downloadable handouts.

You may also listen to my podcast about copper deficiency and toxicity in goats with Dr. Robert VanSaun, a vet professor and ruminant nutritionist from Pennsylvania State University.

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51 thoughts on “Avoiding Copper Toxicity in Goats”

  1. I started giving my goats COWP this year, I have Nigerians and live in streator. How often do you give it to your goats. I gave it in April and they have Sweet Lix always available. They look great. Can you suggest when to give it again?

  2. I’d suggest that you sign up for the free online copper course. It includes 45 minutes of information on copper, so I can’t summarize that in a couple of sentences. You have to know the causes and symptoms of copper deficiency and develop your own plan for your farm. Although we give COWP 3-4 times per year, my friends five miles away don’t have to do that because they do not have well water that’s full of sulfur and iron like we do. If you don’t want to do the online course, then this post includes info on copper deficiency — http://thriftyhomesteader.com/goats-and-copper-deficiency/

    • I have a question for you about the sulfur and iron. Do you know if that will bind with the copper that is injected AS WELL as the copper that is ingested?

      • Route of administration does not matter with antagonists. It’s not like the minerals cancel out each other in the stomach. Injectable copper is not that helpful in cases of chronic deficiency. You’d have to inject them monthly because they pee out about half of it within 24 hours. I had a buck die of copper deficiency (liver level of 14) three months after a copper injection. The oral copper oxide provides the most stable release. Injectable is also more dangerous in terms of toxicity because the dose is so high — but it has to be because they pee out so much of it.

  3. Please tell people the proper way to administer COWP. Most folks I know who use this, break open the capsules and sprinkle it on their feed. The capsule needs to be administered in whole, ideally restricting feed before and after treatment. I do not know the feed withholding times as we do not use COWP. Thank you.

    • This is probably the most realistic article I’ve read about copper in 40 years of goat keeping. Thank you for it. I’ve dealt with copper deficiencies since the 80’s (before anyone knew anything about copper def.) and you are correct in everything you state. I will add that mineral manufacturers still use formula’s created years ago that are not adequate in many parts of the country due to depletion of soils that hay is being grown on these days. Lastly, the idea that the capsules need to be given intact and not broken up has been disproved. (Above.) I use a combination of feeding COWP in a handful of sticky grain and periodically adding copper sulfate directly to the water supply for 24 hours (not recommending this to anyone else that doesn’t know what they are doing.) here in the high Great Basin desert.

    • Unfortunately, this is a very old bit of info that keeps getting passed around, and it is actually problematic. You will get the same results regardless of whether you add it to feed or give it as a bolus. We’ve been giving it with feed ever since I read a published research study on this about six years ago. And we’ve had liver biopsies that prove it works.

      The sad thing is that many people avoid using COWP because they think they have to bolus. And I’ve even had people ask me if they should give a second bolus because the goat chewed the first one, so they think it doesn’t count! Yikes! Absolutely not! Doing this could theoretically result in copper toxicity.

      The capsules are NOT time-released. They’re just plain gelatin capsules with loose COWP in them. It is the copper itself that takes a month or so to dissolve in the stomach.

      There is also no reason to withhold feed before or after. The COWP will be in the stomach for about a month and will be gradually absorbed by the goat during that time.

      • Hi Deborah
        I cannot find COWP anywhere I can have it shipped from Alberta, but that will be a couple of weeks or longer.
        Can I add some copper sulphate to the water for a day or two in the meantime? If so, at what dose?
        For our buck, who is most likely zinc deficient, can he also drink the water? (I am still hoping to find zinc mineral for him. Is there a loose mineral for a more “popular” animal that may have higher Cu and Zn that we can get for use “off label” for our goats?
        I am really worried since many of our does are pregnant and this has been going on for months and even longer.

        • If you have messaged me elsewhere about your goats and have explained the history, it would be helpful if you continued the conversation there. This sounds vaguely familiar, but I get a lot of similar emails. I can’t give a great answer based on the info here.

          I never recommend copper sulfate because it is so easily absorbed that is much more likely to cause toxicity. THAT is the copper that vets are worried about killing goats because there are cases in the literature about goats dying from toxicity when given too much copper sulfate. Unless your goats are at death’s door, it’s not a big deal to wait two weeks for the copper oxide to arrive. If your goats are in really bad shape, you may want to talk to a vet about using Multi-Min injections, which are prescription, but I’m not sure if they’re safe for pregnant does.

      • I am one of those people who refuse to bolus. It didn’t occur to me to see what was inside and whether I could sprinkle it on their feed. Thank you, on behalf of my goats who really needed it.

  4. I live in central Iowa. Have been raising goats for 5 years. I have looked at maps and we fall into the moderate to high level of copper in the soil. They are on good pasture and browse currently. Kids basically weaned. Multiple things to eat. I’ve have never seen classic deficiency, but have a couple of does that seem borderline at times. They get goat mineral buckets and have no problem chewing and licking it out. Just debating on trying a bolus. Never heard of issues from friends either. Would a bolus potentially be too much in this case? Thanks.

    • If you’re using a mineral bucket, I’d first switch to loose minerals. The only way you would know for sure that they are getting everything they need is if they have no symptoms of any deficiencies. Just because you see that they are getting some minerals does not mean every goat is getting enough. If you have a couple goats that are borderline, they might be fine if they had loose minerals. If they are not getting enough from the mineral bucket, there are a lot of things in there other than copper that they might not be getting quite enough of.

      If you have well water with high iron, sulfur, and/or calcium, then the goats probably need additional copper beyond regular mixed minerals. Or if some of your goats have had fertility problems, such as not getting pregnant or having singles (other than first fresheners).

      Copper oxide has a very wide margin of safety, which is why it is also used for parasites in goats and sheep, and sheep have a much lower tolerance for copper than goats do. So if you have a couple of does with borderline symptoms, you could probably give them copper oxide wire particles. It’s normally given at 1 gram per 20-22 pounds, but if you’re not totally confident that they need it, you could give it to them at a lower level to see if it’s helpful.

  5. Hi not sure if this will get posted 3 1/2 months after your copper toxicity versus deficiency helpful discussion. Just wanted to pass on my misfortune as I’ve always leaned more towards treating copper deficiency with excellent 1600 ppm popular minerals that are out there for goats only as well as once or twice a year boluses with copper wire particles. Two of my 80 lb ND wethers goats treated with 6 mg of copper oxide particles now have proven toxicity from that Treatment dosage thatwas given 7 months ago. I just had to put one down that had copper oxide Bolus particles sprinkled on grain also but unfortunately 13 mg of it or so over a year period of the copper bolus since I thought his eyes and coat we are chronically copper deficiency. . They are not fed grain otherwise to avoid urinary calculi. They are on very good pasture six months of the year and excellent broom orchard grass hay the other six months of the year. The black one I had showed all the classic symptoms of copper deficiency even when he was getting closer to death from toxicity. He had the classic fishtail rusty colored hair on his abdomen and face. Otherwise he was jet black so it’s a good type of colored goat to give these clinical details. Also his eyes were chronically anemic about once a year and I learned from a goat specialist that that can be a sign of toxicity and I thought it was more from copper deficiency. So the previous copper discussion about not noticing that eyes are anemic until they were very deficient at the end Close to death…. if I understood it correctly was very helpful. In Other words it was good to know that only barber worms cause anemia for the most part. Mine have always tested zero on fecal egg count‘s from the fancy Mid-America research lab that does Wisconsin floating fecal test. This test is better for subclinical parasites and worms and thank goodness mine are always zero or very low from having a closed herd even in humid New Jersey for many years and now where I live here in more dry Colorado pastures. I have another goat specialist vet locally and we are treating the copper toxic wether goats with penicilliline if I’m spelling it correctly it’s one of the only treatments for copper toxicity. We also did a week of vitamin C 500 mg subq injection to halt the destruction of the red blood cells from copper toxicity if I understood that correctly and you have to time that at the same time you’re using the other drug. So I will keep the group posted on whether the week of the copper toxicity treatment medicine did the trick. The biggest symptoms of all three toxic goats were inability to digest nutrients where they would be completely and grossly bloated from grass but their back bone and ribs were showing from muscle wastage despite aggressive feeding of 12% fat grain nightly on top of the unlimited Vg hay and pasture. I also have soil samples done from a year ago and a nutrient hay analysis from when I baled hay two years ago so I will have my county extension agent figure out if a mineral in balance was skyrocketing the copper absorption when the goats grazed. I suspect more it was bolusing too much. OK so just wanted to share my unfortunate situation and I know that copper deficiency is much more common than copper toxicity. I think my case proves that copper wire particles can cause toxicity….. I know I probably did too many milligrams of copper boluses within 1 to 2 years duration as they all accumulate in the liver long term. I have read up on copper deficiency obsessively over 10 years later and unfortunately one can go too far in one direction as I’ve unfortunately discovered. two of the three copper toxic goats were 10 1/2 to 11 years old. But that only makes me feel little bit better as with my care +nutrition I was thinking they would live closer to 14 to 15 years old as they were all in excellent health before this.

    • Just about to bolus my herd and now a bit apprehensive.

      I have a goat that has a faded coat and is having trouble settling. However, she seems to be going into heat every week which could be cystic ovaries – However, my herd has been eating much more alfalfa this winter than usual and I have another goat that has gone into heat 3 times this month. 2 other goats did not go into heat this month (however, the buck did get out of his pen when we were out of town but I don’t think he got in with the does and one of those does did go into heat a month ago after the break out). My herd does have fish tails here and there and I do get coat fading especially in the spring. We have hard water that is also high in iron 0.73mg/L.

      As usual lots of possible causes for the infertility of my herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats (2 are mixed with nubian). This is my seventh year at it and have never had a problem. I use a system of single minerals from ABC. Copper is a favorite and is refilled weekly. I was also using a mixed mineral for goats from Back in Balance that they didn’t get this year but supplied a mixed mineral from west feeds (? I think) that my bucks get.

      I did have a few goats this summer lose patches of their coat. Zinc definciency and one or two that looked crappy on the face and around the eyes (those 2 are the ones who are having multiple heats in a month). Perfect storm of a lax mineral plan, alfalfa, and hard water. Do I try the copper boluses or more of a replacemin? And do I treat for cystic ovaries? Just looking for thoughts. I have a call into my vet.

      • If you’ve had a mixed mineral available for six years and had no fertility problems, I’d go back to using that. Having two goats with cystic ovaries all of a sudden would make me think there is an environmental cause. Even if your vet suggests hormone therapy to make them cycle, you will still have malnourished goats, which won’t be the best for growing healthy kids. I haven’t seen a study that linked a specific deficiency with cystic ovaries, but I suspect that might be a copper issue based on my personal experience. There is research that shows that selenium deficiency causes thyroid problems in humans, and thyroid problems cause infertility. I’ve never used the ABC minerals because last time I looked you had to buy in quantities that were cattle sized, so I worried about the minerals staying potent through the months (or years) it would take for my goats to consume them. Do they sell them in smaller volume now? How old are your minerals?

        Since they use copper oxide wire particles for parasites in sheep, I don’t worry much about the risk of copper toxicity in goats, which have a much higher tolerance for copper than sheep do.

        • Thanks for your reply.

          I use the ABC minerals for my few cattle also so I can usually get through them quick enough. However I can now also buy them in 5lb bags and a local feed store. I am trying to remember how old the selenium is. I know my copper is within the last 6 months.

          Do you have a recommendation for extra selenium? I have gone back and forth on possible selenium deficiencies. They are not eating much of the SE. I have in the past added a selenium (I can’t remember which one now) to their grain.

          Talked to my vet last night. She also thought a phosphorus deficiency could be a cause. Interesting because I was out of phosphorus for a while. She also thought that cystic ovaries cause goats to go into hot and heavy heat often. This one is luke warm at best. Parasites were also a possibility and the one I am really struggling with had pretty pale lids this am. I herbal wormed her last week after a bit of laziness. So I am hitting her again. My daughter said she was one of the goats that didn’t eat it very well so I am being a bit more forceful now (syringe). She also did get some COWP this am.

          Just feeling a bit frustrated and not sure how to go about figuring out the issue. I have 2 other does who don’t didn’t cycle this month. And 3 that did. One of those has been with buck twice but that is normal for her. 2 cycling often, 3 on a normal schedule and 2 not cycling or very quietly which is not usually the case – however my buck is further away from the herd than usual and it has been really cold.

          Thank you

          • I used a free-choice selenium from Caprine Supply for about five years but they quit carrying it. I’ve been using selenium-E from Fertrell for about a year and a half now. It seems to be working, although they don’t seem to eat it as much as the old one, even though this has less selenium in it.

            Vitamin E deficiency can also cause fertility problems.

        • Would you recommend goats drink from a copper bucket (the water absorbs the copper over a few hours) as well as giving regular copper Bolas? The copper in the bucket also keeps the water free of bacteria.

          • I do NOT recommend copper oxide for all goats. You should only give it to a goat that is showing symptoms of deficiency, regardless of what other forms of copper they are consuming. I have no idea how much copper would be absorbed from metal, but apparently the amount of iron we absorb from cast iron skillets is minimal because it’s not a very absorbable form of iron, so I would not make any assumptions about copper being absorbed (or not) from a copper bucket. I would want to see research on that before saying anything about it.

    • You should have only given a max of 4g bolus to an 80lb goat and never break open capsules and sprinkle over grain as you want the wires in the stomach not stuck in the mouth and throat.

      • The regular dosage for supplementation is 1 gram per 22 pounds, so yes 4 grams for an 80-pound goat would be correct. However, the info about not opening a capsule is very old advice that was not based on any research. The copper does not get stuck in the mouth and throat. It is swallowed by the goats. Several years ago someone posted an x-ray of their goat’s rumen after they put the copper in a marshmallow, and the goat chewed it up. There is also a published study that was done by Joan Burke, PhD where she compared two groups that received copper via bolus and copper that was mixed in feed, and there was no difference between the two groups. And I personally have been top-dressing the copper ever since I read that study in 2010.
        Since that time I’ve also talked to hundreds of goat owners who have been top dressing the copper or hiding it in all sorts of foods from fig newtons to bananas so that the goats chew it up — and it works fine. I have never heard of anything negative happening as a result either.

        • I don’t use a bolus gun and feed the COWP. I gave in a hollowed out piece of banana about 1 1/2″ long. I had a piece of Apple ready to offer so the goat swallowed the banana quick to get the apple too! Perfect!
          very little chewing on coppered banana. 🙂

    • Will, I gave my 300# goats 12mg of copper not knowing until long after that the max no matter what the weight is would be 4mg. It’s now 2 months later and my goat is urinating brown which is a sign of toxicity (trying to rule out everything else but there’s no blood or crystals in his urine and a lot of literature leads to toxicity of some sort). I know this was written a couple of years ago but am wondering if you have any follow-up of whether the penicillin worked. I’m at a loss for how to go forward right now and my vet has been of little help.

      • Literally thousands of goats have been dosed at 1 gram per 22 pounds with no ill effects. And if a goat did get copper toxicity from a bolus, it would not take two months to happen. I don’t know what you’re referring to when you ask if penicillin worked. I just searched this page for the word “penicillin” and you’re the only person who has used it. As an antibiotic, it would not work for anything other than a bacterial infection in a goat. It would do nothing for copper toxicity.

        I just checked the 2020 edition of Sheep, Goat, and Cervid Medicine, and there are multiple reasons for brown urine, including kidney disease and plant poisoning, as well as copper toxicity. I would suspect one of the first two as copper oxide two months ago would not be a problem now. However — what other copper is in your goat’s diet? Unfortunately there are some new goat minerals on the market now that have dangerously high levels of copper in them. What mineral do you have available for your goats?

        • Penicillamine is a heavy metal antagonist used to treat copper toxicity in humans (Wilsons Disease). It is not the same as penicillin the antibiotic.

          • Thanks for that info! In sheep and goats they sometimes feed a copper antagonist if copper toxicity has not caused liver damage yet, but I have not heard of them using any drugs to treat it.

        • Hi,
          I had a question. I have multiple goats that I believe are copper deficient, and I have well water. There was a water test done several years ago, and it says that the level of iron was <0.1 mg/L. Is that to high for goats? Unfortunately, it did not test for sulfur or calcium.

          • You do NOT need a water test. If your water is high in sulfur, it STINKS. Trust me, you cannot miss the stink! If it doesn’t stink, it does not have excessive sulfur. If you have too much iron, it will turn white sinks orange. If your white sinks and bathtubs are white, you don’t have too much iron. Calcium causes white deposits on your fixtures, but it not as much of a problem as sulfur and iron, which are the main culprits.

          • Ok, we definitely don’t have a sulfur problem, but our sinks sometimes turn orange after we clean them. We have copper pipes for our water and it makes the sinks turn greenish-blue all the time. The results for copper said 132 mg/L, I don’t know if that’s high or not. We have been giving them feed that has 10 ppm copper and alfalfa hay mixed with hay from our pasture. I know alfalfa has a copper antagonist in it. We also switched them about two months ago to a new goat mineral that has 1000 ppm iron and 250 ppm copper because we had a goat at the time who was anemic and we were trying to supplement him with iron. I have two young bucks who were having a worm problem about a month ago and were anemic because of it (or so I thought). Their pellets kept changing from mushy to normal, and of course, I kept up with the dewormers but also started orally supplementing with iron every day for a week or two and then switched to doing it once a week when it wasn’t doing too much for the anemia. I probably overdid the iron and I don’t know why it didn’t hit me that they could be copper deficient. I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the matter. We are new to goats and are trying very hard to get the hang of it. I have been reading your articles and books almost since we got the goats and have learned so much. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and thank you for your time.
            P.S. Is their some other way to contact you if I have other questions?

            • That is complicated! I have not known anyone who has copper in their water. There is no research on how that could balance out the sulfur and iron in the water. I would stop the mineral that has so much iron. I would normally NOT be happy about a mineral with only 250 ppm copper because most people need at least 1700 ppm for their goats, but again, I don’t know anyone who has so much copper in their water that it turns their sinks blue.

              If your goats had a worm problem, you should treat them with a dewormer. If they are otherwise healthy, they can produce enough red blood cells to get their blood back up to normal once the worms are under control. I’m concerned that you were not using the dewormers correctly or that you have a problem with dewormer resistance because it should have taken one dose of dewormer to take care of the problem.

              I really hope this does not happen, but if one of your goats die, I’d highly recommend you get the a complete mineral panel on the liver. Or if you butcher one, you can send in the liver yourself. I send mine to Michigan State’s vet lab. (I live in Illinois, so you don’t have to live in Michigan to use their lab.)

              If you are on my email list, you can email me. If you are a member of Goats 365, you can text me and do Zoom meetings twice a month. https://thriftyhomesteader.teachable.com

  6. The signs of copper deficiency you list that include still births, abortions, etc, are not any signs of copper deficiency that I have ever seen and I farmed on copper deficient land for 32 years. Still births, abortions, infertility are signs of IODINE deficiency. Sure, you may have copper deficiency as well, which shows up as discoloured coat, anaemia, thinness, fine leg bones and enlarged joints, lowering milk yield and lowering appetite. Fishtail, my observation, is more likely to be that one of the deficient goats is eating tails. Again copper and iodine deficiencies are likely to be accompanied by cobalt deficiency. All 3 are required, to make red blood cells, not just iron. All 3 are required along with phosphorus, to absorb calcium into the body. Selenium is antagonist to all of these, so if you have a selenium regime in place, you can have deficiency unto death of all the others – been there, had a near miss of losing my whole herd because some idiot in the factory added selenium to my special loose mineral mix totally against my instructions. I went back to sheep copper blocks, much safer, and no selenium. Vitamin E is utilised much more efficiently by goats than selenium and it doesn’t inhibit the other minerals as selenium does.
    I developed a drenching programme of 1% copper sulphate solution and 1% cobalt sulphate solution. This saved my herd. The copper is done for 7 days, then rest a week, then 7 days, then rest 7 days. Recrod-keeping for each animal is essential. The copper regime halts the moment a goat holds its improvement during the rest week. This means it has enough copper stored in the liver to be going on with – depending on the weather over the next year, you may not have to repeat.
    However, if your goats do not have copper deficiency, but you decide to do them anyway, you can kill them even with a 1% solution, as a vet in Southern California reported to me. I was horrified. Being already well aware of the symptoms of copper toxicity, some years before I had to deal with copper deficiency, I was horrified that such a minute dose could cause death. I had purposely kept my dose minute as I did not want to cause copper poisoning.
    Sure, a soil test will tell you what minerals are in your soil, but you also need a herbage analysis to tell you which minerals in the soil your plants can use. What your plants can’t access, your herbivores are missing out on, and it is these minerals you need to supplement.
    And the most effective treatment for copper toxicicy, is daily B vitamins – yeast will do. Been there, dealt with it.
    I suspect most of those thinking they have copper deficiency in their herds would be wise to look at iodine and cobalt deficiencies first – you would have a hard time poisoning your goats to death with either of these. If matters still don’t improve, then try copper.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experiences from New Zealand. I’ve never communicated with someone from that part of the world, and sounds like things are really different from here in North America. The symptoms of copper deficiency that are noted in this post come from veterinary texts written in the US, and in my experience they are spot on. We had many fertility problems including miscarriages. Yes, iodine can also be a cause for those things, as iodine is very important for thyroid function, which is directly related to the reproductive system, but I’ve never heard of a goat in the US being iodine deficient. In the US, we see so much copper deficiency on farms NOT because of a soil deficiency but because so many of us have too much sulfur, iron, and/or calcium in our well water, plus dairy goat breeders feed alfalfa, which is high in molybdenum, so this cases secondary copper deficiency. Those minerals bind with the copper so the copper is not absorbed as well, meaning the goats need more copper.

      I never recommend copper sulfate because as you noted, it is very easy to overdose a goat with it. The use of copper sulfate is why so many are afraid of copper. However, copper oxide is MUCH safer. There have been more than a dozen studies done on copper oxide in the last ten years in the US, and even when giving it to sheep, there were zero cases of toxicity. By dosing at 1 gram per 22 pounds, we have been able to eliminate all of our fertility and newborn issues, and the copper level in our goat livers is mid-range normal now as compared to terribly deficient years ago before we started supplementing with copper oxide.

    • I have heard of another case of iodine deficiency in the US now. I never say that anything is impossible, but counting you, I have now heard of two cases of iodine deficiency and thousands of cases of copper deficiency. I’m sure the odds of iodine deficiency or copper deficiency are different in other parts of the world.

  7. our loose mineral is ido goat mineral. aprox. 225 ppm copper. it has iodine and selenium and cobalt. we also have well water with calcium.

    these articles are good info. but there is still the issue of how much of each mineral especially copper my Nigerians are to have.

    the loose mineral I think is copper sulfate. BUT, can I copper bulas will the caprine 4g adult goat capsule of COWP.

    I just purchase the bulas and do not want to have an issue with sick goat due toxicity.

    more replies back are better.
    thank you.

    • Goat minerals should have around 1500 to 1800 ppm copper sulfate in them. I’ve never heard of the mineral you mentioned, and when I checked their website, I couldn’t find a mineral for goats, but 225 ppm is not nearly enough. If you sign up for the free copper course listed at the end of this article, there is a lot more info in there — almost 45 minutes of videos.

  8. I’ve given 2 gm copper bolus to 20 lb wether. Urine , on occasion orange- brown. All other health normal. Had urine checked and no blood. Feeds loose minerals, orchard grass, Timothy hay, small amount organic grain mix with ammonium chloride given daily, forage on wild rose and blackberry, fresh water with apple cider vinegar. Wondering for how long brown urine considered normal.

    • Brown urine is NOT considered normal. There are a number of reasons it can happen. How do you know it’s not blood? I can’t imagine a vet checking a urine sample only for that. Wethers do not need grain if they are consuming a good quality hay and have access to pasture and browse.

  9. We live in an area that is not copper deficient area at least not for cows. So will I still have to worry about the goats ?

  10. This is such good information, thank you Deborah, and all of you experienced goat breeders!!
    We have signs of copper deficiency in our herd, with some exhibiting more symptoms than others. (Particularly my Saanen doe. The rest are commercial Boer does) And more in the winter than summer. It must not be extreme, because our fertility rates are good, but the girls do get worms, especially now, in July, when they are at peak milk output. Lots of triplets.
    According to your information, this is likely because of hard water, which gets higher calcium content in the winter. Would adding apple cider vinegar to the water help by precipitating the calcium out of the water? When I add it, there is a layer of white on the bottom of the water tub.
    I live in southern Saskatchewan, Canada

    • If calcium is the only thing in your water, you probably won’t have severe problems. It’s the sulfur and iron that seem to cause the worst issues. Calcium mostly seems to exacerbate the problem when the other two are already present. Adding apple cider vinegar to their water won’t help.

      To remove calcium, you need a water softener. If you get the right kind of salt pellets, a water softener can also reduce iron. If you have sulfur, you have to get a chlorine injection system with a giant carbon filter.

  11. I have a 2 year old buck that is deficient in copper. He was brown, (LaMancha) but he got a winter coat last September and never lost it. It is very blonde. I thought he was some rate goat/yak crossbreed (lol) I had not read that is was a symptom until 3 months ago. Bolus in May and June. Still got real long fur. Husband afraid to bolus until 6 months. What is the cure for a severe case like this.? Thanks to all previous posts for great info.

  12. We have used copper sulfate mixed with TWICE as much dolomite to prevent toxicity, at the rate of 1/2 t. of copper sulfate per head per week (mixed in feed daily) for the last 14 years.
    Our symptoms of copper deficiency have disappeared and we have had no worms, whereas before worms were a constant ongoing issue.
    We have lost on lamb who was living with the goats to copper toxicity, but no goats.

    • Hey Emily, where did you purchase the copper sulfate you used? Just the standard blue copper sulfate that can be purchased to keep algae out of water or for orchard sprays?

  13. Can you give copper to your goats while pregnant? I’d hate to hurt the babies in any way. I typically give them 2 g every 3-4 months as needed because of the iron and calcium levels in our well water. They last got a dose in January and still are missing hair on the bridge of their noses, they also got selenium in Feb. I just don’t want to do anything to hurt them or the babies.

    • You can but if you are giving them copper, and they still have no hair on their nose, then copper deficiency may not be your problem. The hair should grow back within 2-3 weeks on the bridge of the nose because it’s very short. Could they be rubbing off the hair on a hay feeder that has a horizontal bar above their nose?

      When you say they got selenium in February, what exactly does that mean? If it was a paste, that’s worthless because there is so little selenium in there. If it was an injection, the bottle says that it’s not supposed to be used in pregnant ewes (it’s actually labeled for sheep).

      What is the free choice mineral that you have available for them?

  14. Great article, very informative. In the southern part of the USA, all of our bagged fertilizer contains sulfur. I’m not sure about bulk, but I doubt it’s any different. I do know that chicken litter from the commercial chicken houses contains copper and sheep farmers are warned not to utilize it on their fields. Primarily because their feed, and their for their droppings contain to much copper. I would think that llama, alpacca and their own barn manure could be utilized for sheep and goats.
    Just some thought that I though I’d throw out their for thought.


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