Is copper oxide really safe for goats?

Is copper oxide really safe for goats?

More than ten years ago when my goats had severe fertility problems, and my bucks all died before the age of three, an experienced breeder suggested that we might have a problem with copper deficiency. My teenage daughter did a lot of reading and agreed. But when I called the vet to ask for an injectable copper supplement, he insisted that copper deficiency was impossible if my goats were eating a commercial goat feed and had access to free choice minerals. So, I called another vet who said the same thing. Ultimately four vets said the same thing, which really scared me away from the idea of supplementing my goats with copper oxide wire particles, which were available from livestock supply catalogs. Ultimately a liver analysis of a dead goat proved that we did have a problem with copper deficiency. The vet still refused to give me the prescription copper, so I started using copper oxide wire particles (COWP), which are often called copper boluses.

Back then I had to buy calf boluses, tear them apart, and then redistribute the copper into goat-sized doses. Over the past decade, however, copper deficiency in goats has become more commonly accepted as a real problem, and goat boluses are commercially available. However, I still hear a lot of people ask if it’s safe. I’ve personally read more than 15 studies done on copper oxide wire particles used as a dewormer in sheep and goats, and there was never a single case of toxicity in any of those studies, even in the sheep, which have a much lower tolerance to copper toxicity than goats do. However, most of those studies only had a couple dozen goats or sheep in them, so I was still curious about what was happening in real herds.

Last month, I created a survey to learn what goat breeders are doing in their herds with copper supplementation. It will take some time to tease apart all of the data, but one thing became clear very quickly. Copper oxide wire particles are safe.

copper supplements

Copper oxide toxicity

Of the 570 respondents, 377 said that they supplement with either Copasure or Santa Cruz copper oxide wire particles, making them the most popular form of targeted copper supplementation. Respondents were also asked if they had ever had a goat die from copper toxicity. Only 3 of the 570 respondents said they had a goat die from copper toxicity, confirmed by a lab analysis. The question asked for dosage of copper if they had a goat die from toxicity, and the three responses were:

  • she was poisoned with copper sulfate at a show in 2013 she was winning everything.
  • Coppasure, dosage at 1 g/22 lb, was late 1-2 months on receiving next dose at 2x/year dose rate.
  • Don’t remember

It appears the person who responded with the second answer may have accidentally responded “yes” because in response to the question that asked about frequency of using COWP, he or she also said, “Switching to 3x/year because 2x/year did not seem to be enough,” and this person also reported having a goat die from copper deficiency confirmed by lab analysis. Unfortunately this respondent did not include their email address, so I can’t follow-up.

No one had a goat that died from copper toxicity based upon their vet’s diagnosis, and three people said they had a goat who they thought died of copper toxicity. One person did not leave a comment to explain, and the other two added:

  • mistakenly drenched kid with 1/4 tsp straight copper sulfate (was supposed to be mixture of 2:1 dolomite:copper). Nightmare 🙁
  • No suppliments ..just hay and small amount of mixed grains

The person who left the second comment probably did not have a goat that died of copper toxicity because there are no known hays or grains that contain toxic amounts of copper. Since they were giving no supplements, it could mean that the goat actually died from copper deficiency.

Copper oxide dosage and frequency

frequency of supplementation

Almost everyone dosed the COWP at 1 gram per 22 pounds or simply followed the manufacturer’s recommendation of one small bolus for kids and one large bolus for adults. There were a few people who dosed at higher rates, but this will take more time to analyze because the responses were written out.

Relevance of survey

How many goats are represented by this survey? If you average the herd size and multiply it times the number of respondents in each group, it comes out to almost 8,500 goats that the respondents own right now. When you consider the fact that 95 respondents have owned goats for more than ten years, that multiplies the number of goats even more. So it appears that copper oxide wire particles are extremely safe, even if one goat died from toxicity, which is questionable based upon that respondent’s other answers.

I’ll continue to crunch the data on the survey over the next few weeks and provide you with additional information, including symptoms of copper deficiency, diet, and mineral supplementation.

number of goats owned
number of years owned goats

You can learn more in my free online course, Copper Deficiency in Goats, by clicking on the link. It includes live videos, PowerPoint lectures, and handouts.

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36 thoughts on “Is copper oxide really safe for goats?”

  1. A little history–There is a lady in southern California, Joyce Lazzaro, who did countless studies on copper deficiency in goats. She is responsible for introducing the importance of added copper to our goats diet way back in the 80’s. There is another lady that has done extreme studies on copper deficiency, Willi Boepple in Canadia. Willi is on Saanen Talk. These ladies have shared their knowledge with goat breeders and vets for years.
    I myself started using coppasure more then 35 years ago. I now use Muilti Min 90 which I have used for over five years.

    Reply
  2. I can’t find anything about supplementing Llamas with COWP. I have a mixed herd of sheep, goats and now a llama. I can’t leave goat minerals out because of the sheep. I have been bolusing my goats but wondered if my llama would benefit. Thanks

    Reply
    • We had llamas for 9 years, and they never had a problem with copper deficiency, and they didn’t even have loose minerals available all the time. I imagine give them COWP would be a lot more challenging than giving it to a goat. I’d definitely try to do it the way that I show in the video in my copper course (adding it to food). But I’m not sure that llamas need that much copper.

      Reply
  3. I use multimin 90 too, previously used copasure. My herd has no parasite problems so I switched to multimin with great results. We are very copper and selenium deficient here . If we were having worm problems I would also bolus for the local, in rumen effect on worms.

    Reply
    • If the mothers are not copper deficient, and the babies are still nursing, they are fine. I don’t usually give them COWP until they are weaned or until they are about 3-4 months old. They don’t usually have a problem with deficiency until they start drinking a lot of our water, which has high mineral content.

      Reply
  4. Thank you so very much for the information. More goat owners need to have all of this information available to them. I will post this site on TGS forms and hopefully more goat owners will realize the need for copper. This has open my eyes to the need even though I give COWP to my goats on a 6 months rotation . Now I may find the need to give copper more often. Thanks again.

    Reply
  5. Fairly new goat owners here… we started right off on a regiment of monthly bolusing… as a anti parasitic along with herbal forms. but have weaned off the herbal and find the copper is all we need!
    We have very high iron and sulfur amongst who knows what else water tho… and have to supplement their feed (hay) with maybe 20% alfalfa at this time as well.
    Weve seen such health improvements since weve owned our only (only…so far) two does… even tho the previous owner swore they didnt need copper and were fine. there was some slightly high parasite… slight fishtailing… and dull slight copper hue to their coats.
    but beyond that… just so much healthier acting.

    Reply
    • I get really nervous when I hear people talk about giving copper oxide more often than every 3 months. Maybe you are giving a much lower dose so that it comes out to being the same as if you were doing the usual dose every three months? In parasite studies when they do monthly dosing, they only do it for a total of 3 or 4 months, then they are not doing it again until the next year during worm season. If you keep dosing at the usual rate on a monthly schedule, you will eventually have a toxic build up of copper in the liver, which could kill the goats.

      Reply
  6. I am the author of Farming Meat Goats: Breeding , Production and Marketing for CSIRO Australia. I would caution breeders to be very careful of copper supplementation. Unless there are obvious signs of deficiency such as dark hair turning reddish, the coat starring and starting to feel like a hard bristled brush, aborting does and so on, I would caution great care using this therapy. The reason is, that excess copper is stored in the liver and when there is so much stored that the liver can hold no more, it is released all at once into the blood stream and the goat will collapse and die suddenly. It will be thought that perhaps a snake may have bitten it or that perhaps it has died of some other reason, However, at autopsy it is found that the bloodstream is full of copper. So unless you have a soil test done which shows copper deficiency or the goats are showing signs of deficiency, I would have a vet do a blood test on the goats before ad-hoc supplementation.

    Reply
    • Of course, no one should provide a supplement for no good reason. There are multiple other articles on this site about proper use of copper supplementation. This particular type of copper — copper oxide wire particles — have also been shown safe to use in sheep in more than a dozen studies where they were given to sheep to combat barber pole worm, which was one of the reasons I started giving them to my goats. It is much easier to OD sheep on copper than goats, as they are much more sensitive to it and need far less than goats. In fact, one complaint of some people is that copper oxide is not very well absorbed — but that is only if you are comparing it to copper sulfate, which is what was used in most studies of copper toxicity.

      Also, I suggest that people do liver samples on butchered kids or a goat that dies to get an idea of their copper status, as blood tests for this particular mineral are not really helpful and often give a false sense of security because the numbers tend to run high, so a deficient goat may have a normal serum level.

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  7. Do you supplement with free choice loose minerals and still give copper boluses once or twice a year? I gave boluses to my herd in February which made a huge improvement, but I’m concerned about dosing again since they still have Purina loose minerals.

    Reply
    • Because many of us have copper antagonists on our farm, such as sulfur or iron in well water, our goats do need more copper than what is available in goat minerals. Those minerals are made for goats that are not living with copper antagonists in their environment. If your goats are showing signs of copper deficiency, then you probably need to give copper oxide. There is absolutely NOT a one-size-fits-all mineral out there that will work for all goats. Nor is there a single recommendation for giving additional copper. You may want to check out my free online copper class with videos for more info on this:
      https://thriftyhomesteader.teachable.com/p/copper-deficiency/
      Also, keep in mind that Purina just increased the amount of copper in their minerals substantially, so your goats may need less copper oxide now than they would have a year ago with the old formulation. You should always watch your goats and make decisions based upon what they tell you.

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        • You can, but you don’t need to. If it’s high in sulfur, it will stink like rotten eggs or a dirty dish rag. If it’s high in iron, it will turn a white sink yellow or orange.

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  8. I have severe copper deficiency in my herd. How soon after giving a bolus can I start seeing results? Have you ever known of anyone who used the bolus with multimin?

    Reply
    • Please do NOT use both MultiMin and copper oxide wire particles. COWP is much safer than MultiMin. You have to be patient. Since many of the symptoms are related to hair, it takes time to grow. If your goats have balding on the bridge of their nose, that should be filled back in within about a month because that hair is short. It takes a few months though for a tail to fill in because that hair is 2-3 inches long. Goats may blow their coat within a couple of weeks if it’s summer, but this time of year, probably not, so it’s going to take a lot longer for you to notice color or texture differences. If your goat is copper deficient and you give them copper, it WILL raise their copper level. If you have not already signed up for the free copper course I’d suggest doing that so that you can ask more specific questions and even post pictures of your goats for feedback.
      https://thriftyhomesteader.teachable.com/p/copper-deficiency/

      Reply
      • Some of my problems are associated with the hair color/loss, but my biggest issue is the inability to fight off the parasites. I am on a very good worming program, however, I’m afraid that due to my copper problems the wormer is not effective as it should be. I’m stuck in a cycle of parasite overload and copper deficiency. I was wondering if I bolus and wormed at the same time that would help

        Reply
        • There is no such thing as a good worming program. It sounds like you’re deworming on a schedule, which leads to dewormer resistance. This does not sound like a copper problem, if those are the only two symptoms you’re seeing. It sounds like a worm problem. Although you can give copper oxide and a dewormer at the same time, I would NOT do that if you have given copper oxide within the last three months. You may need to give two or three dewormers from different classes at the same time. But that will be worthless if you are not also incorporating proper pasture rotation and a few other strategies for preventing parasites. You also need to give 2x the cattle dosage of most dewormers to goats. Here is more information on this —
          https://thriftyhomesteader.com/internal-parasite-in-goats-preventing/
          https://thriftyhomesteader.com/deworming-goats/

          Reply
          • I have actually wormed on a schedule and as needed. 2 different workers and twice the dosage. Believe me, I’ve done the research on worming practices with goats. However, I have also noticed a severel copper deficiency. Our area is proven to be copper deficient. And I have concluded that the copper issue is possibly why the goats can’t fight the parasites. I just needed specifics on how the copper blouses worked. I have never used them. I did sign up for the free on line class. I still have specific questions I will continue to look for.

          • There is a lot of old information online that says to deworm on a schedule. That’s what everyone did up until about 10 years ago. But since nothing online ever dies, it has been very hard to get the information out on the research that has been done in the last 10 years. Deworming on a schedule causes dewormer resistance, which means the dewormers stop working. This happened to us 10+ years ago, which is why I started digging into the research on worms. I had goats dying from worms, and none of the dewormers were working. So it turned into survival of the fittest — the goats with the best parasite resistance. Copper deficiency played a role in our case, but when goats are THAT copper deficient, they are also having problems with infertility, spinal injuries, and death. If the only symptom you’re seeing is coat color change, that would be a minor deficiency. Poor immune function can also be due to other mineral deficiencies such as zinc and selenium. What loose mineral do you have available free choice?

            Copper oxide does work as a dewormer for barber pole worm, and you can give it at the same time as a chemical dewormer, and a study by Burke showed that it worked like giving two dewormers together — they got a higher worm kill than when using only one. If you’ve never given it, you could try that.

  9. I have found your information on copper so helpful. I belong to sdveral goat groups online and one woman was posting dire warnings about the toxicity of COPW and another was congratulating her for not falling for the “goats get copper deficiency–bolus now!” Band wagon and claiming there were never any studies ever done proving any goats can suffer from a deficiency of copper. Argh! I have read many studies and one particular to my area (southern California/Western Arizona) recommended giving as much as 5200ppm copper because our soil is so deficient, our water is horrible, and the goats need it. I will continue to read the thrifty homesteader for sound advice. Thank you so much

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing! The important thing to remember about copper is that needs can vary SO much by farm. When a friend five miles from me had goats, she never had to supplement like I did because her water was not high in sulfur and iron like mine is. It’s great that you know people who’ve figured out what works on their farm, but just in case anyone else is reading this and wondering if they should use that much copper, I never suggest giving more than 2000 ppm a day unless you have liver tests that show your goats are still deficient at that level. Then just gradually increase until you find what works for your goats.

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  10. I just gave boluses to my Nigerian dwarfs who were showing signs of deficiency a week ago. Mainly my black Nigerian dwarf started to get red in her coat and fish tail. Now, a week after giving 2 copasture boluses to her, she is looking even more red than she did last week. I can understand that it might take a month to regrow hair or for her coat to get really dark again, but I’m worried that she needs more COWP since she seems to be getting worse?!

    Reply
    • Color does not change that fast. Color is made when hair is growing, and the hair has to grow out, which is a very slow process. If a goat sheds out a lot of hair, the color may look different, but nothing actually changed about the color of the individual hairs. Do you have photos that you can message me on my Facebook page? facebook.com/thriftyhomesteader

      Reply
  11. I have been having some issues with my small herd of 5 goats, since, I got a Nubian back in March. They are showing all the symptoms of copper def. I have adjusted the feed, the loose minerals, sprayed for lice, bathed and used DIY, EO topical liquid to backs, and still struggling… I just got some Copasure and dosed each of them with 4G in peanut butter, and my really big girl, got 6G. All the feed store had was the 2G capsules specified for “ruminating kid goats over 25lbs”, so, I went ahead and did administer and am considering another round, just waiting to see if they improve. I believe I was def feeding too much alfalfa, and the new goat just had all sorts of issues.. Do you think it advisable to go ahead with another dose? I am not seeing any adverse effects…they are doing okay, except still losing some hair and never have I had such an issue with parasites… I do herbal wormers, but was waiting for 2 of them to kid, any day now…I appreciate your wisdom and insight. (:

    Reply
    • How much do your goats weigh, or what breed are they? What mineral do you have available free choice? What other feed are you giving? I need specific brand names.

      I’d suggest you join my free copper course because it includes a LOT more info (45 minutes of videos), as well as a photo gallery that shows how and when the symptoms disappear. You can also ask questions in there and post photos of your goats so I can see what you’re talking about.

      Reply
  12. Hi Deborah,

    Lauri from Vermont here. I bought your book and am devouring it. You’ve also answered a couple of questions on-line over the past couple of months.
    My current questions have to do with copper, as well as body condition, even though I’ve tried to find everything you’ve written on the subject.

    Our kids (2 doelings and a whether) have now lived with us for a month—we bought them from a farm who fed them a medicated grain without your recommended copper quantity; we switched the doelings to Purina non-medicated. The male is receiving Triple Crown Forage Safe Starch (what he was used to) instead of the grain. They eat hay and I bring them branches from our woods, mostly beech. The wether is developing a slight fishtail. His fur, from the get-go has also been coarser than his sisters—no hair loss on his face. From the moment we brought them home, collectively, they’ve lapped up 1/4 of Sweetlix a day—it hasn’t slowed down.

    We had our water tested years ago, because I’ve always thought it tastes metallic and stains blue—which I thought was copper. We do have copper pipes. The test came back showing copper at safe levels.

    The doelings, especially, seem underweight—they certainly weren’t 20 pounds at 2 and a half months when we got them. They weigh only 22 and 26 now. They were dewormed a month ago before the farmer sent them home with us (Do you do that when selling kids?). Their mom had 4 kids, only one of whom was bottle fed. Our kids were weaned at 2 months. 

    I want to boost all their resistance to parasites. I’m wondering if I should wait to bolus the girls since they are so close to the lowest dose? I am open to any other suggestions, especially about weight gain.

    Thank you, as always,
    Lauri

    Reply
    • The kids should not be copper deficient at this age unless they were born to goats that were copper deficient. I would like to see a photo of the kid’s tail before commenting further. If you are on my email list (receive my newsletter), feel free to send me a pic via email. YOu can just reply to any newsletter you’ve received from me.

      Reply

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