Copper for Livestock


Copper Deficiency a Common Problem

Marginal to severe copper deficiency in cattle is widespread across the United States, especially in the Appalachian mountain and Coastal plains regions. Typical deficiency symptoms include: rough, discolored hair coats, winter coats that are slow to shed; decreased conception rates; increased days open; hoof problems; depressed immunity; anemia; reduced growth rate and, in some cases, diarrhea. Copper deficiency in cattle is brought on by a combination of factors including: low soil copper levels; high soil concentrations of minerals known to antagonize copper; plant effects and breed factors.

Forage surveys conducted across the United States overwhelmingly reveal forage samples that are marginally to severely deficient in copper. Additionally, a high number of samples contain levels of antagonistic minerals (sulfur, molybdomen and iron) high enough to induce copper deficiency in cattle. These antagonistic minerals bind with copper making it unavailable for use by cattle. Excessively high levels of these minerals will increase copper requirements in cattle. In other words, when these antagonistic minerals are excessive cattle will need more copper in order to meet their nutritional needs.

Copper levels in forages are not only dependent on mineral levels in soils but also the forage type and maturity. Grasses tend to be lower in copper than legumes grown under the same conditions. Also, copper concentrations are higher in leaves compared to stems. Therefore, as a plant becomes more mature (stemmy) it’s value as a copper source decreases.

In addition to presence of antagonistic minerals, forage type and forage maturity, breed also influences the need for additional copper supplementation. For example, Simmental and Charolais cattle have higher copper requirements than Angus cattle under the same conditions. For all of the above reasons, many situations exist in which cattle respond favorably to copper supplementation.

Why is Copper so Important?

Copper is needed by a variety of key systems in the body. Numerous enzymes necessary for reproduction, immunity and growth need copper. In addition, copper is necessary for proper metabolism of iron, maintenance of connective tissue, pigmentation of skin and hair, maturation of hoof tissue, and many other functions.

Copper and Immunity

Proper copper nutrition is essential for a healthy immune system in cattle. Copper is needed for proper development of antibodies and white blood cells in addition to antioxidant enzyme production. Copper deficient cattle are more susceptible to infections and do not respond as well to vaccinations. In addition, they tend to be less resistant to parasitic challenge. Studies have shown that cattle receiving proper copper nutrition tend to be less susceptible to infections and have less severe infections when disease does occur.

Copper and Reproduction

Reproductive problems cost beef producers about $15.00 per cow per year. This translates into $750 per year for a 50-cow herd. It is widely known that copper deficiency in cattle results in reduced reproductive efficiency and performance. It is theorized that low copper levels alter enzyme systems involved in reproduction. Typical copper deficiency symptoms include decreased conception rates, increased days open, increased cases of retained placenta, delayed puberty, and increased repeat breeders in cows and decreased libido and semen quality in bulls.

Proper copper nutrition in pregnant females is critical to the health of newborn calves. Newborns are very dependent on copper acquired during the prenatal period since milk is a poor source of copper. Calves have a high copper demand during the first few months of life. Also, copper nutrition has been shown to be an important component in a newborn’s ability to withstand cold stress. Calves born to copper deficient cows experience increased death losses, reduced growth, reduced immunity and poor production efficiency.

Copper and Stress

Stress increases an animal’s mineral needs and tends to exacerbate existing mineral deficiencies. This is especially important with weaned calves. Studies have shown that copper deficient calves have more health problems, gain weight less efficiently and have lower net returns. For this reason it is vital that calves receive adequate mineral nutrition BEFORE weaning because even a proper mineral program cannot overcome existing mineral deficiencies once stress sets in. Calves going into stocker or feedlot situations will perform better when they have received adequate copper nutrition prior to weaning.

How Can I Provide Enough Copper for My Cattle?

The key in providing adequate copper is to provide YEAR-ROUND access to a free choice mineral that contains sufficient copper. The amount that is sufficient will vary according to current mineral status of your cattle, soil mineral levels, season, breed of cattle, etc. Do not skimp on mineral supplementation during spring and summer months when forage quality is good. Remember that most soils are deficient in copper so the forages grown on those soils will be deficient too. It is also important to eliminate use of yellow sulfur salt blocks. These sulfur blocks can artificially increase sulfur levels to the point of inducing copper deficiency.

Cattle producers who have observed the following symptoms in their cattle: rough, discolored hair coats (red tinge on black hair or loss of pigment around the eyes); winter coats that are slow to shed out; decreased conception rates; increased days open; hoof problems and/or depressed immunity should consider mixing Copper Sulfate into their mineral. An adquite level of Copper in a mineral is 2500 PPM. This is equivelient to 1/2 pound of Copper Sulfate per 50 pound bag of mineral. If your mineral has less than this, add Copper Sulfate accordingly to bring up to 2500 PPM. Each ounce of Copper Sulfate added to your 50 Pound bag of mineral will increase the PPM by 300. You can use this figure in calculating the amount you need to raise the copper in your mineral.