Symptoms of copper deficiency:
Coat is rough and starey, faded in coloured goats, and greyish in white goats. Goat holds on to old coat much longer than usual and when it falls out the goat may be almost naked for a week or so because the new hair is not coming through readily. Sunburn on the naked skin slows down hair growth still further.
Ribs and vertebrae stick out very noticeably as the goat carries no extra flesh. Where calcium intake is compromised by lack of copper, you may find knobs on the ends of the floating ribs and the points of the jaw. Fractures of even such solid bones as shoulderblades can occur.
The head looks too big for the body.
Leg bones look very fine and joints tend to be enlarged. Again this is lack of copper compromising calcium uptake. Goat walks cautiously and doesn’t want to jump on and off heights. Probably won’t play much either because the bones aren’t supporting it very well.
Erect-eared goats tend to carry them drooped to 20 minutes to 4 position, and head low, may be permanent frown – signs of permanent headache. I’ve never had Nubians so I don’t know what their ears do with copper deficiency – I would expect them to go bald round the edges, though, same as erect-ears often do.
Severe anaemia – check insides of eyelids. Cream is bad, grey is worse, and green is just about totally lacking in haemoglobin.
Worm count in my herd at its worst varied from nil to 7500 – the nil goat was sicker than the 7500, btw – most were about halfway between. Worm burden is uncontrollable in severe copper deficiency because the goat’s immune system is too far down to resist the little sods. Milk yields may disappear to nothing, though it’s surprising just how
long they stay in milk, even though looking like concentration camp inmates.
Kids born with swayback (enzootic ataxia).
In really severe deficiency the animals may have chronic scours, sometimes of semi-digested food, because they haven’t enough blood and blood quality to make the gut work properly (luckily mine never reached that stage).
When most of these symptoms are present, you may then find bald tips to tails – my experience it’s one of the last symptoms to appear, and doesn’t always. Some of mine, the only decent hair left on them was the tuft on the tip of the tail.
As I wrote this off the top of my head, I may have missed a symptom or two, but these are enough to be going on with……….
The following letter was in reply to a vet whose colleague had seen some goats poisoned by copper treatment.
This sort of thing is what worries me when people want my copper regimen. It is meant for treating copper deficiency, and is at a level which will not cause toxicity in a deficient goat. Obviously, as your quote shows, it will cause toxic symptoms in goats which are not copper deficient. But trying to get it through people’s thick heads that the goats
must show several serious symptoms of copper deficiency before they start throwing copper about is very very difficult. It seems to be the fashion to think that a bald tail tip is copper deficiency, and in 99 cases out of 100, it’s nothing of the sort. A goat that is fat and shiny and eating and milking well is NOT copper deficient, however bald its tail – I’d be looking for a tail muncher.
I would want to be sure that the goat was exhibiting serious copper deficiency symptoms before giving copper. I do emphasise this to people, but have no control over how much of what I write is passed on to other people.
My dose rate for an adult dairy goat with copper deficiency is using 1% solution of copper sulfate, 20 mls twice daily for 7 days, rest 7 days, repeat 7 days, rest 7 days, 20 mls once daily for 7 days, rest 2 weeks, and repeat the 20 mls once daily for 7 days if necessary. Reason for the rest periods is to monitor the goats closely. If they don’t drop back in improvement and yield during the rest period, you stop dosing the extra copper. Strict record-keeping and observation is essential. So is not exceeding the correct dose. It is very hard to get through to people how invidious copper poisoning is. There’s very little between enough copper and too much, and a goat can tip over into toxicity without the handler realising it. Must say I have never seen discoloured urine in a copper poisoned goat myself, and
I’ve had to treat a few. Only one was mine, and I was using a high copper kelp powder on her, it was years before I developed the 1% solution method. Two of the others had been overdosed on high copper liquid seaweed. One had been accidentally exposed to Bordeaux mixture. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of anyone overdosing on what could have been my recipe. I can only keep emphasizing that people should not treat goats for copper deficiency unless they show several serious symptoms, and all the other things they have tried to correct the goats’ condition have failed.
– Irene Ramsay.
This article was originally published in New Zealand in 1980. Updated by Irene in January 2007.
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