To get an idea of how common some of these symptoms are, you can see the responses to the question about symptoms on the copper survey I conducted in 2016.
Of 570 respondents, 63 did not see any symptoms of copper deficiency in their goats.
Primary copper deficiency occurs when a goat doesn’t consume enough copper. This is more likely if the owner is feeding plain grain rather than a commercial goat feed. However, not all goat feeds are created equal.
Years ago I spoke to a professor at Texas A&M who had done research on goat nutrition, and he suggested using a commercial goat feed with at least 35 ppm copper. Many brands have less than that, so you have to read the feed tag.
Goats should also have a free choice mixed mineral available, and it should have around 1500 ppm copper sulfate. Even though you provide as much copper as a goat needs, however, they can still wind up copper deficient. How?
Secondary copper deficiency means that a goat is consuming enough copper, but they are also consuming a large amount of a mineral that is a copper antagonist. That means that it binds with the copper, making it unavailable for the goat.
Sulfur, iron, molybdenum, and calcium are copper antagonists that are the most likely culprits. Sulfur, iron, and calcium can be found in well water. Sulfur makes the water stink like rotten eggs or a dirty dish rag. Iron turns sinks and bathtubs orange, and calcium leaves mineral deposits on fixtures.
Multi-Min is an injectable mineral that includes zinc, but it also includes copper, selenium, and manganese. If your goats tend to run low on copper and selenium, then using Multi-Min for a quick fix when you discover zinc deficiency may work as it did for my bucks. However, if your goats have never shown any signs of copper or selenium deficiency, an injection of Multi-Min could be fatal. I know two breeders who had multiple goats die from liver and kidney failure after injections of Multi-Min.
The vet sold me on the idea of Multi-Min because I would no longer have to do copper boluses or BoSe shots, and the bucks would have plenty of zinc. That sounded like a great plan. But I didn’t use Multi-Min very long. Three months after an injection I had a buck that died with a copper liver level at 14 ppm. (It should have been 25 to 150 ppm.)
A couple months later I was talking to a vet professor about my bucks, and he said, “Never supplement with a syringe.” Injectable minerals are great when you have an animal that’s sick and needs a supplement fast — such as my bucks that were not eating. But if you know you have a problem with chronic deficiency, you need to figure out how to get a supplement into them orally on a daily basis.
Katy Whitby-last wrote:Deborah, I read your article and I'd be interested in how you manage the calcium / copper balance. We are in an area with high molybdenum because of high rainfall and I feed a goat specific mineral. However, we need to feed quite high levels of calcium as some of my milkers are producing 2 gallons of milk per day which I expect could inhibit uptake of copper. We don't have any signs of copper deficiency but I would rather avoid a problem before it arises.