Copper Defiency

by Lyle Mc Nichol, McNichol Livestock Consulting Services, Dauphin, Manitoba

I would like to outline what I have learned about trying to diagnose a copper deficiency over the past 30 years in ruminant animals such as goats, sheep and cattle in Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan.

Hair loss, faded hair color and coarse dry hair may be indicative of trace mineral and vitamin deficiencies but I would not draw conclusions from missing hair on the nose, ears or lower legs.

A copper or zinc deficiency can really only be confirmed by a blood or liver sample analysis.A blood sample will not give the most accurate picture your herd’s copper status but can give a quick indication of a possible problem. The best test is to submit a fresh liver sample from a mortality such as a kid or a mature animal.

The liver book values are well established and can give an accurate picture of your herds status provided you do more than one animal.

When making a diagnosis, I first would like to see the feed test results for trace minerals ran on all forage feed sources. The water should be sampled as well for possible high salt, sulfates and iron levels or other problems like high nitrates etc.

The diagnosis process is a complicated one that will require a time period of up to six months so one should not jump to rapid conclusions.

Animals which are copper deficient are also more susceptible to parasites due to their weakened immune systems. Copper deficiency affects the body’s ability to build and recycle red blood cells and cause animals to become anemic.

A Copper deficiency can be caused by low copper in the feed, by high sulfates in the water, high molybdenum in feed, high iron levels in feed or water may also contribute to a deficiency. I have most often found a combination of one or more of these situations occurring together. When this happens a deficiency is very hard to treat.

In my experience, a copper deficiency is often not a single mineral deficiency but may occur in combination with zinc, manganese and sometimes with selenium deficiencies. This situation is very often combined with a poor herd vitamin status which can further compound the diagnosis.

Once a diagnosis has been made the first step is to put all animals on a sound nutritionally balanced rations with adequate protein, energy, vitamins ADE, correct Ca : P ratio and supplemented with Trace minerals at a high enough level to correct the deficiency. If one does not have a balanced diet, for example adding just copper to the ration you aren’t likely to solve your problem. A severe trace mineral deficiency does not occur over night and it may take a year or more to correct the problem and to regain the lost fertility and growth rate in the herd.