Copper is an important trace element for all livestock, with many functions in the body.

Copper is an important trace element for all livestock, with many functions in the body. These include:

  • Promoting fertility
  • Assisting in absorption and utilisation of iron to synthesise haemoglobin so that oxygen can be transported around the body
  • Maintaining the formation and strength of bones
  • Being a component of several enzymes involved in energy metabolism
  • Ensuring normal skin and hair pigmentation

Copper deficiency can produce the following symptoms:

  • Anaemia
  • Bone Disorders
  • Diarrhoea (Scouring)
  • Neonatal ataxia (Swayback)
  • Poor pigmentation and structure of hair and wool
  • Infertility
  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Impaired function of the immune system

There are 2 main reasons for copper deficiency occurring:

Primary deficiency due to low copper levels in the soil and therefore in the pasture. This problem more commonly occurs on sandy soils.

Secondary deficiency caused by the antagonistic effects of other mineral elements. This is the more common situation.

The particular minerals that interfere with copper metabolism are molybdenum, sulphur, iron, calcium, selenium and zinc.

By far the most important situation is the interrelationship between copper, molybdenum and sulphur. These three elements combine in the rumen to produce a biologically unavailable copper complex, which cannot be used by the animal. Adding more copper to the diet (as copper sulphate) may not overcome the problem. Alternative sources of copper (such as protected copper) usually produce a better response in the animal.

There are significant breed and species differences in copper requirements. Sheep require relatively little copper in their diet with certain  continental sheep breeds being particularly susceptible to copper poisoning. Scottish Blackface sheep, for example, are more tolerant to copper. Of the cattle breeds, Holstein cows have a higher copper requirement compared to Jersey cows.