One of the biggest struggles most goat owners face at some point during their caprine journey is figuring out how and when to supplement copper in their herd. Copper deficiency is a very common goat issue that exists in almost every herd to varying degrees and necessitates keeping good goat health records and instituting a regular supplement regimen.
Copper deficiency in goats almost always presents initially as a fading of their coat, thinning of their tail head (also referred to as “fish tailed”) and can lead to an increase in internal parasites. In more advanced stages, thinning or balding of hair around the goats eyes, weight loss and a failure to shed their winter coats will be observed and ultimately if unaddressed for lengthy periods of time, can cause death.
Some goats seem to be more predisposed than others to develop copper deficiency problems than other herd mates regardless of sharing the same pasture or eating the same feed. The root cause in such cases can often be traced to that particular goats eating habits, a parasitic load or mineral deposits in the pasture or in the water (if you have a well for example) that prevent the absorption of copper (some minerals bind with copper and prevent it from being absorbed: Calcium, Sulphur and Iron are known copper antagonists and all commonly found in well water) and lastly when all else fails could likely be a genetic issue.
But I feed my goats a free choice loose mineral…
While its extremely important to provide a loose mineral that is free choice (always available) that is formulated specifically for goats…many times the mineral simply isn’t enough (concentrations of various minerals are not standardized and vary widely bag to bag) or its not being consumed frequently enough (some goats may not find it as palatable as others). In a perfect world, our furry goat friends would be able to satisfy all their nutritional needs from the pastures they roam and the feed supplements that we caring owners provide. But, for most of us in US there simply isn’t enough copper present in most soils to meet their needs.
To further compound the issue, there isn’t exactly a great way to find out if you goat is copper deficient before symptoms present. Blood tests are not usually too reliable and the only conclusive test is via a liver biopsy—not exactly doable on a live goat. So, the best we can do is to observe our goats and their coats as they change throughout the seasons and watch closely for thinning tails and rough, faded coats. Preventing copper deficiency in goats from the get go is always better than trying to fix it after the fact.
Prevention and Supplementation are key…
Enter the Copper Bolus. Also known as COWP or Copper Oxide Wire Particles this monster looking vege-cap pill is filled with small bits of copper oxide wires that look very similar to graphite lead used in mechanical pencils. These metal-type wires get lodged into the intestinal track of the goat and act as a slow release form of copper. Its pain free and takes the guesswork out of making sure your goats are getting enough copper. Most goat owners agree that dosing (regardless of what the manufacturer states on the label) should be 1g of COWP per 20lbs every 6 months. However, it is always wise to consult your veterinarian (one who is experienced with goats!) if you want specific dosing for you herd/breed. And dosing every 6 months is only a bare bones guideline.
Some folks may find that they need to supplement more frequently (like we do). Our water is low in iron but calcium rich and our goats are fed alfalfa fairly regularly (heavy in calcium) and so we find that we have to dose roughly every 4 months depending on the goat. For example, we have one 8 year old Saanen doe who seems to be chronically deficient no matter what we do, so we dose her every 3 months. We also do what we can to watch for symptoms (which for our Saanen doe, is a thinning coat) and limit her alfalfa (back to eating habits being a root cause – she is an alfalfa hog and will completely ignore her goat ration that’s minerally balanced in favor of alfalfa.
Keeping records of any medical care, medicine or supplement that is given to your goat herd (or any animal you’re raising on your farm/homestead) is a useful tool that will help you discover/uncover potential trends and issues. I keep track of how many grams each goat gets and when. By doing so, over the course of a year you will begin to notice who responds best to what dosages. For example, we dose all but two of our Nigerian Dwarves on a 6-month schedule and two of our older Nigie does receive COWP every 4 months. By keeping track, we were able to determine by observation and record keeping that the two older does were showing signs of copper deficiency sooner than the others and we were able to respond and adjust their dosage accordingly.
I personally love and use UltraCruz Copper Bolus because they come in 4gram capsule that break open easily. We administer the contents (COWP) by hiding the wires in banana or fig newton’s. I am not a fan of using a bolus wand when I can make my goats take what’s good for them easily and stress free for everyone!
If you do not already keep goat records and are needing an easy to manage printout that will allow you to keep all your goat info in one place- I have a free one for you Here