Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, Texas
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, TX
Lohn, Texas
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COPPER DEFICIENCY AND TOXICITY IN GOATS

The exact amount of copper required in the goat's diet is currently unknown and is dependent upon several factors. However, the goat needs far more dietary copper than was originally thought. Testing can reveal enough copper in tissue or blood samples and the goat can still be copper deficient. This is due to the complex interaction of minerals in the goat's metabolic system. Copper is essential in the proper development of the central nervous system, correct bone growth, and hair pigmentation. Copper-deficient goats have difficulty conceiving kids and, if bred, abortions are not uncommon. Copper supplementation can sometimes help but cannot always eliminate these health problems.

Copper deficiency can be the result of low levels of the mineral in the soil and in forages raised on the soil; this is primary copper deficiency. However, both the feed and the soil can have adequate copper but its absorption can be interfered with by minerals known as copper antagonists: lead, iron, manganese, various sulfates, cadmium, and molybdenum. This is secondary copper deficiency.

Congenital copper deficiency is the term used to describe the kid who did not receive sufficient copper in utero. Often born swaybacked, the kid stands unsteadily or cannot stand, displays muscle tremors and head shaking, and may grind its teeth. The kid can see, hear, and sometimes can nurse, but he has low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and sub-normal body temperature (hypothermic). Bone abnormalities are common, particularly in the long (leg and back) bones of the body. Complete recovery from congenital copper deficiency does not often happen because problems that occurred during fetal development may not be correctable. With intensive nursing, swaybacked kids may survive for days or weeks, but they usually do not live long.

Kids who appear to be fine at birth but develop symptoms at around three months of age are said to have the delayed form of copper deficiency. Evidence of atrophied muscles appear, tremors and incoordination occur, and leg weakness is displayed. Usually the problem appears in the rear legs first, but not always. Kids with front-leg weakness will spent lots of time on their front knees. Kids with rear-leg weakness will pull themselves around by their front legs. Death occurs from secondary problems, like pneumonia. This delayed evidence of the results of copper deficiency can be confusing, diagnosis-wise, because it is sometimes accompanied by the neurological form of Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE), listeriosis, or even muscular dystrophy. Secondary copper deficiency tends to be more responsive to treatment than primary copper deficiency.

Insufficient weight gain, poor appetite, and weight loss are seen in copper-deficient goats of growing age. Adults display more subtle signs of copper deficiency. They are generally unthrifty, anemic, poor milk producers, and sometimes have diarrhea. But the most visible sign of copper deficiency in adults is loss of hair color. Copper is essential for melanin production that causes hair pigmentation. Hair decoloration occurs when the copper-containing enzyme is missing.

Control of proper copper levels in goats is critical. Find out why the goat is copper deficient. Is the soil low in copper? Is there interference in copper absorption because it is binding with other minerals (copper antagonists)? Goats metabolize and store copper much differently from sheep. Do NOT use products labelled "for sheep & goats" because they are woefully insufficient in the amount of copper needed by goats.

Copper can be given to pregnant does and newborns sub-cutaneously (SQ) in the form of copper glycinate or orally in the does' drinking water via copper sulfate. Severely copper-deficient goats are sometimes given copper boluses which attach to the inside of the body and slowly deliver copper at a predetermined rate.

The easiest and probably the best method, in the opinion of this writer, is to furnish loose minerals with sufficient copper content free-choice to the goats year-around. However, the copper level must be based upon several factors, including the copper available in any ration that is fed to the goats.

Copper levels in loose minerals fed free-choice may safely be considerably higher than in "full feed" packages that are consumed by the goats on a daily basis. For example, a "full feed" should not more than 15-20 ppm of copper in most cases, while free-choice loose minerals might be as high as 1500 ppm in copper. Have your forage tested for copper levels before deciding on copper levels in your feed and minerals packages.

It is possible to induce copper toxicity in goats. Copper accumulates in the liver. Red/brown urine may be a sign of copper poisoning. Using calf milk replacers has caused copper poisoning in kid goats.

Up to 1200 ppm of copper may be fed to goats under specific situations. The goat producer must determine what conditions apply in his particular geographic area and based upon his feeding program. Check with a knowledgeable goat veterinarian for proper dietary levels of copper for your goat herd. Much more scientific research needs to be done in this very important area of caprine nutrition.

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All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.

In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.

The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)

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