Copper Requirements in Goats

I’m in Grand Rapids, MI, at the annual conference of the American Dairy Goat Association this week and am writing up blog posts on some of the more interesting things that I learn.

If you’ve read Homegrown and Handmade, then you know that I fight an ongoing battle with copper deficiency in my herd because our well water is high in sulfur, which binds with the copper. I arrived late on Sunday (thanks to road construction), so I was only able to attend the tail end of a session on copper in goats. The presenter was Dr. Robert Van Saun with the University of Pennsylvania Extension.

Before I get to the important tidbits I learned from Dr. Van Saun, I need to give you an update on my herd since H&H went to press. A couple of my bucks had trouble with zinc deficiency last winter because they were getting alfalfa hay instead of grass. Alfalfa is not good for bucks because it contains too much calcium, and among other things, it can cause a zinc deficiency. The vet at the University of Illinois clinic suggest that I start supplementing my bucks with Multi-Min, an injectable supplement. It also contains copper and selenium, so I would not have to give copper oxide wire particles or BoSe (a selenium supplement) to the bucks. Seemed like a great plan.

Then a buck died a couple months ago, which was three months after the last Multi-Min injection. He seemed completely healthy in every way, and as I sat there staring at him, I finally realized that his bright red coat had faded to tan — a symptom of copper deficiency. I haven’t had any copper problems since I started supplementing with copper oxide wire particles (COWP) four years ago, so I had not noticed that his coat was starting to fade. I had Katherine remove his liver, and we sent it to the lab for a copper analysis. It was 14 ppm, which is definitely not high enough. Normal is 25 to 150 ppm. What happened?

Dr. Van Saun also did a session on selenium, and in both sessions he stressed that we should not supplement by injection. Nutritional supplements should be oral, and they should be available on a regular basis. He said that injections are for animals that are so severely deficient that they are actually sick. So, if I had noticed the faded coat on my buck before he died, THAT would been the time to give him an injection. Although injectable minerals are easily absorbed, they are also easily excreted through urine and feces. He said that in one study, 40% of what was injected was excreted within 24 hours in the urine. Wow! So, this means that I will be going back to oral supplementation with COWP.

I also attended a session on general goat nutrition on Tuesday and picked up a couple more important tidbits on copper from Steve Hart, Ph.D. — if you add molasses to feed, you could wind up with a copper deficiency problem because molasses is high in sulfur (like my well water). Sulfur is also in distiller’s grain, so that is something else to keep in mind, if you use that feed source.

It is fascinating how all of the vitamins and minerals interact with each other, either increasing or inhibiting absorption. I’ll have at least one or two additional posts on nutritional information that I learned this week.

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3 thoughts on “Copper Requirements in Goats”

  1. I figured out that molasses conection when I was looking into it too… it HAS to be unsulfured. You can get it that way, but most commercial molasses is not unsulfured. Same with raisins, which my goats LOVE to munch for treats. I have to buy unsulfered organics, because sulfur is used to help the fruit last longer. sheez.

  2. Does anyone have any idea on the dose of copper needed by a goat per week? I have been "coppering" my goats by giving them copper for human consumption. I purchased 2 mg chelated copper per capsule. I open the capsules and sprinkle the copper on jam coated bread. The goats LOVE this treat. But I wonder if 2 mg/week is enough. The product for human consumption recommends one tablet per day. I can't give "goat minerals" as I also have several sheep that run with my heard.

    • No one has studied that type of copper in goats. The dosage usually used for copper oxide wire particles is 1 gram of copper per 22 pounds of goat. You will have to watch your goat for signs of copper deficiency to figure out exactly how often you need to give it, but it should never be given any sooner than one month after the last dose, and that would not be a normal schedule. Most people only need to give it to their goats 2-4 times per year. My book, Raising Goats Naturally, has more details on copper deficiency.


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