Copper Deficiency Case Study

copper deficiency in goats case study

We’d had Nigerians for three years when I purchased Muse, my first LaMancha, a yearling in milk. At six months fresh, she dried up, which was disappointing, but I was eagerly looking forward to her kidding the next spring. We never saw her come into heat until December, even though we had two wethers with our does to help detect heat cycles.

Because I didn’t own a LaMancha buck at the time, I drove her to another farm 75 minutes away for a driveway breeding. In spite of the buck successfully covering her twice, she came back into heat three weeks later. Not being in a position to drive to the other farm again, I decided to breed her to my Nigerian buck. She never got pregnant that year, but she wasn’t the only goat having fertility issues.

We had about a dozen Nigerian does at that time, and several were not coming into heat or getting pregnant. My daughter Margaret did some reading and said she thought our goats were copper deficient, but over the months, four different vets said that was impossible.

A year after we bought Muse, I bought a LaMancha buck, and the following spring Muse kidded with twin does. By June, however, she still had not shed her winter coat when we clipped her for a show. A couple of weeks later, she died unexpectedly. Having no idea what was wrong with her, I took her body to a vet for a necropsy, and I said I wanted to have her liver checked for copper. The necropsy came back listing Tyzzer’s disease as the cause of death, and her copper level was 4.8 on a scale where normal is 25–150 ppm.

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Tyzzer’s is a rodent disease, and in searching scientific journals, I was not able to find a single recorded case in a goat, although there have been a few cases in horses. Like any barn, ours has mice, and Muse probably ingested mouse poop at some point. But why would she get a disease that is unheard of in goats? My assumption is simply that her immune system was not functioning at an optimum level, leaving her vulnerable to a disease that a healthy goat would never have contracted. The vet insisted the whole thing was just a fluke and said that there was nothing I could have done to prevent her death, and he refused to give me prescription copper for my other goats.

I started doing a lot of reading, however, and realized we had the worst possible scenario for creating copper deficiency. Our well water had iron and sulfur in it, which are copper antagonists and reduce absorption of available copper in the diet. On top of that, we had been feeding a commercial goat ration with only 10–15 ppm copper. I contacted an animal scientist who had published articles on goat nutrition, and he advised finding a feed with 35–40 ppm copper. We also began giving the goats COWP.

After changing our goat feed and giving COWP to the goats, we immediately saw faded, wiry-haired goats shedding their coats and replacing them with much softer and darker hair. That fall, all of the does came into heat, were bred, and stayed pregnant until term.

This is an excerpt from the second edition of Raising Goats Naturally by Deborah Niemann.

Learn more about Copper Deficiency in Goats and Avoiding Copper Toxicity in Goats.

copper deficiency in goats

10 thoughts on “Copper Deficiency Case Study”

  1. Thank you for this very informative article. I am also having problems with copper deficiency in my Nigerian Dwarf goats. I am seeing lightened hair color, fishtails and also one doe has dry flaky skin and hair loss across her face and her ears. Her skin almost looks like she has mange, but none of the other goats has it and we have no problems with herd contamination from neighbours. Can you tell me what feed you switched to? I am looking for a good feed because other than alfalfa hay there is not much choice around here. I don’t have the same problems with my water as you did though. My goats don’t get much browse though as we have mostly red dirt and rocks on our land. The one other plant they can get is Madrone trees which they scarf down like candy! I do give them each about a half cup of sweet feed every day plus they have loose minerals (meat maker) readily available at all times. I give COWP once monthly year round as well as BOSE paste monthly. I am willing to switch them to a mostly pelleted diet if it will increase their copper levels. Any suggestions you give me would be much appreciated!
    Thank you,

    • The two brands that I’m aware of that have 35 ppm or more copper are Dumor Goat Sweet Feed (Tractor Supply) and Purina Goat Chow. Be sure to check the feed tag because both companies have other goat feeds that have 20 ppm copper. You should not feed them mostly pelleted feed, but you would replace the sweet feed you are currently feeding with a goat feed that has at least 35 ppm copper.

      I’ve never heard of anyone giving COWP monthly. What dosage are you using?

      Is your doe milking or pregnant? Dry flaky skin sounds more like zinc deficiency, which usually only occurs with dry does and bucks — not milkers or pregnant does. Here is more on that —

  2. I am worried about copper deficiency in only 1 of my 3 young (4mo old) pygmy goats. His black hair is less shiny and is becoming reddish as well as the hair around his eyes looking sparse. They are eating mostly brush, honeysuckle and leaves primarily. We give sweet feed for a treat and a bit of corn or hay sometimes. I have started giving Manna Pro goat minerals, although they do not like it and try to avoid eating it. I have a few questions:
    1. How long after adding a copper / mineral supplement would you expect to see visible results?
    2. Is it typical that only one of them would have copper deficiency given that they all eat the same diet?
    3. Do I need to worry that they will eat too much copper if I mix the mineral in with their feed? I know the container says not to give more than the recommended dose daily but I have a terrible time getting them to eat it unless I mix with the sweet feed. Is there another easy way to give this?
    4. Should I start giving COWP to them? Are they too young or is it safe? Would you give to only the goat that is showing symptoms?

    Thank you so much!

    • How soon you see results depends upon how much copper or minerals you give them. If it’s not enough, then you won’t see anything.

      It is easier to see copper deficiency in some goats than others. Some people claim that black goats tend to be more copper deficient than other colors, but that’s not true. The reality is that when a black goat starts turning reddish, people notice because it looks wrong. If a cream colored goat starts to turn white, or if a red goat starts to turn cream, most people do not notice.

      I don’t normally recommend Manna Pro for breeding animals, but it’s okay for wethers. With only four goats you won’t see it disappear very fast. You need to do the math and figure out how long a cup of it will last if you have it available free choice. Most minerals are only supposed to be consumed at about 1/3 ounce a day, so I’d suggest putting out a small measured amount to see exactly how much they are consuming. Keep in mind that wethers don’t usually need as much as breeding animals. If copper is the only thing they are low on, you could just give them copper oxide. I’d suggest signing up for this free course to get more information about copper —
      You can also use copper oxide for parasites, so it is safe to give them.

  3. I have been giving Replamin Plus to my goats after a recommendation from a breeder. Much easier to give than the copper boluses and it seems to be doing the trick.

  4. Deborah I saw a Facebook live Spa day you did a few days ago. I have also been following all the updates on copper you have done. I listened and watched the complete lecture series. I have been giving my Nigerians the 4grams of Copasure in a piece of banana for years. I live in Minnesota and have well water that has some iron and sometimes smells a bit of sulfur along with calcium deposits. I also was giving my goats the Purina minerals but it was the old formula. After learning awhile back from your post about the new formula I didn’t buy the Copasure when I ran out as I had just bought the new formula Purnia mineral. My question is after watching you give copper again at the 4 gram dose do you think the mineral is not sufficient enough? Do I need to give the 4 grams of copper again? I starting to notice some red in my black does and a bit of hair loss on nose. I have just started the mineral though so I know it hasn’t had a chance to work. Sorry this is so long. Thanks for any help you can give. I am grateful to have someone like you over the years. It’s been very helpful. Thanks Connie

    I’m sorry I posted this twice. I also posted on the online course site. I wasn’t sure where to post.

    • Please don’t post in two places as I answer all questions so that others reading the comments will know the answer, so here goes …

      Sweetlix did not increase the amount of copper — just changed the type of copper so that theoretically it should have been more easily absorbed. Purina increased the amount of copper, so the two minerals we are using are different. I cannot tell you what your goats need. I always say that you need to look at YOUR goats. They are all different. Water on every farm is different. What works on one farm does not work on another. Never do anything just because someone else does it. Pay attention to your goats and only treat them for copper deficiency if they are exhibiting symptoms of copper deficiency.

  5. In one of your podcast you said that feeding balanced calcium/phos ratio only applies to urinary stones and that you can’t offset calcium blocking copper absorption by feeding more phosphorus. Did you mean that phosphorus doesn’t block calcium (like calcium does to copper)?

    • I think you might be referring to the fact that feeding alfalfa to bucks or wethers can cause zinc deficiency because males don’t need a high calcium diet, so the calcium binds with the zinc, causing zinc deficiency. A lot of people think that the only down side to feeding alfalfa is the possibility of stones, so they think that as long as they balance the calcium with phosphorus that it’s all good. But that is NOT the only problem that can come from feeding alfalfa to males. If male goats get too much calcium, it can cause zinc deficiency, and adding phosphorus to the diet does not change that.


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