Copper is an essential mineral for goats. Without it they can become sick, infested with internal parasites, and exhibit a plethora of other issues. Most soil in the United States contains less than 50% of the needed amount of copper. Since the soil is so lacking, copper should be supplemented in the diet and via bolus to avoid a Copper deficiency in your herd.
Let’s discuss why copper is so important, how to tell if your goats are deficient, and what to do if they are.
This is a soil map from an extension website showing the low copper availability in US soil.
What causes Copper Deficiency in goats?
Primary copper deficiency
A primary copper deficiency in goats is caused by a lack of copper in the diet. This can easily be remedied by adding a loose free choice mineral that includes copper or feeding a commercial feed with copper in it.
Secondary copper deficiency
A secondary copper deficiency is a little more tricky. When goats consume minerals that bind with copper (think molybdenum, sulfur, iron), then the absorption of copper into the body is inhibited. This means that your goats can become copper deficient even if they are consuming plenty of copper in their diet.
To remedy a secondary deficiency, you will need to pinpoint the source of the copper antagonist and eliminate or reduce that mineral in the diet of your goats.
What are the signs of Copper Deficiency in goats?
Copper deficiency can cause a plethora of health problems. If you observe any of the symptoms below, then that could indicate low levels of copper in your goats.
The symptoms of copper deficiency can include:
- Wiry Coat- This has always been the tell-tale sign in my herd. When I see a rough wiry coat on one of my goats, I know that their copper levels have dropped below where they need to be.
- Hair loss- Copper deficiency can cause hair loss in goats. This occurs especially around the face and the tail head.
- Fish tail- This one is caused by hair loss on the tail. If the hair on the tip of a goat’s tail is split and resembles a fish tail, your herd needs a copper boost.
- Not Shedding Winter Coat- If your goat is still holding onto the winter coat well into the summer, there may be a copper deficiency.
- Coat color change- A lack of copper can cause dullness in your goat’s coat color. Black hair can become reddish and other colors can look bleached or washed out.
- Anemia- We check our goat’s eyelids periodically because their color can tell you a lot about their health. Pull down the lower eyelid and check the color. If it is a bright pink, you should be all clear. If they are pale or white, you should determine if you are dealing with a copper deficiency, parasites, or both.
- Fertility issues- Boars may not breed, females may not go into heat (or have silent heats), and there could be stillborn kids, and miscarriages.
- Parasites- When goats have low levels of copper, they are more susceptible to parasites.
- Spinal Injuries, Bowed Legs, Death- Severe copper deficiencies can lead to these major issues.
How to Prevent Copper Deficiency in Goats
If your goats aren’t currently exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is still a good idea to take steps to prevent copper deficiency. The best preventatives are copper oxide wire particles, mineral supplements with copper, and feed with additional copper.
- Administer copper oxide wire particles (COWP)
Copper oxide particles are used by goat owners to increase copper levels, treat goats for barber pole worms, and to improve the overall health of their herds.
Copper deficiencies are fairly common in goats, but they need to be treated quickly. Giving COWP is the most efficient way to raise the copper levels in your goat herd.
COWP can be given in the form of a capsule (copper bolus) or by top dressing feed. Copper bolus is administered via a bolus gun or in treats. These capsules can be broken open and sprinkled over the top of the goat’s feed as well.
- Offer loose minerals with added copper
Your goats should always have access to free choice minerals with added copper. This gives them a steady source of copper without overloading them.
Be aware of minerals in feed and mixes that inhibit copper absorption and may make the copper unavailable for the goat’s body to use like sulfur, molybdenum, and iron.
Avoid using sheep minerals for goats as they tend to have a higher concentration of molybdenum.
- Choose a goat feed with added copper
Another simple way to ensure that your goats are consuming enough copper is to feed them a commercial feed formulation that has copper added in.
How to Diagnose Copper Deficiency in Goats
Diagnosing copper deficiency isn’t necessary and that’s a good thing because it is pretty tricky. The only reliable way to positively diagnose a copper deficient goat is to take liver samples to a lab… and that is impossible to do unless the goat has already died.
There are also hair tests and blood tests, but they aren’t reliable. Thankfully, the signs and symptoms of copper deficiency are fairly obvious as long as you know what to look for.
Treatment for Copper Deficiency
The treatment for a copper deficient goat is almost the same as the prevention. You can administer COWP, offer loose minerals with copper, provide feed with more added copper, and you can give copper injections.
Injectable copper should be a last resort. When copper is injected it doesn’t stay in the system very long so it isn’t a long term solution and it overloads the system with copper all at once. Copper injections have been linked to some cases of copper toxicity in goats so hold off on this option if you are able.
Be Sure to Record Copper Deficiency Treatment and Prevention
Use The Homestead Goat Record Book to keep track of your copper treatments and all other information vital to your goat herd.