As I study the Pat Coleby mineral supplementation subject more and more, the biggest hang-up I have is over copper (Cu). I can breeze right through the advice for offering the other minerals free-choice, feeling confident in her assertion that the sheep will eat what they need and no more. And most of what’s in her recipe is fairly low-risk, even if the sheep ate a little too much. But not so with copper!
The risks of copper
Copper is scary, because in sheep, there is the potential for toxic overdose. Apparently sheep store copper in the liver, and it’s normally released into the bloodstream as needed. A stressful event can, however, cause a massive dump of copper into the bloodstream, creating rapid and acute poisoning.
So, we know sheep need some copper, and they can’t have too much. But nobody can say what a safe range is, because it likely varies between individual sheep, sheep breeds, and their pasture and feed combinations. Enough sheep have been killed from copper toxicity that feed manufactures and sheep producers alike have just abandoned copper altogether, to avoid the risk. But, to me, that’s just trading one risk for another, because copper deficiency is indicated as the root of many chronic and acute health and production problems. Pat Coleby says that pairing copper with dolomite eliminates the risk, because it buffers copper. But there are no studies to prove to us that’s true. So, what to do?
I think my sheep need more copper
I am suspicious that my sheep need more copper, for several reasons. They are generally very healthy looking, I had a 200% lamb crop this year, delivered without difficulty, the lambs grew well, the ewes nursed well, and were in good shape for this fall’s breeding cycle. So, I don’t have much reason to complain.
But many of my sheep have foot problems, despite very careful management on my part. I trim and treat hooves every eight weeks, and manage mud very carefully. And we had an exceptionally dry summer with perfect-looking pasture and constant rotation, so there was no excuse for foot problems this year!
I also noticed that the foot problems actually improved over last winter, when the sheep were on supplemental grass hay and dry COB, even though it was wet and a little muddy then.
The sheep I bought in September came with healthy feet, but within a month or two, were starting to show scald and foot tenderness.
Another interesting clue to copper deficiency is the appearance of rust-colored hair/wool on black pigmented animals; and “spectacles” of light-colored hair around the eyes. I have some spotted and self-colored sheep, so I’ve been scrutinizing them! The black and white Jacob sheep definitely has dark, dark black on her face and legs, with no shading at all (and she is reasonably free of hoof trouble). But the brown colored Katahdins do have “rusty” hair tips, and the suggestion of spectacles. Or, is it just more variation in their already varied markings? Or sun fading? I’m not sure! The four Katahdins pictured here do make me wonder.
I recently listened to a local large animal vet say that he’s diagnosed a lot of acute copper deficiency in livestock in his practice, and he attributes it to high molybdenum in our soils, which binds with copper. Hmm.
So, I gave them copper
With this evidence so far, I decided to do the unthinkable: I put out goat mineral supplement that contains copper. The label clearly states, as do all copper-supplemented feeds, “do NOT feed to sheep!” I did it with trepidation, but I put it right alongside the sheep’s existing for-sheep mineral supplement, thinking, hopefully, they will “choose the right,” whatever that may be for them. Well, terrifyingly, they went bananas for the goat mineral, fighting for first dibs, cleaning it up every day, and have continued to eat it at a good clip for two months!
And they never touch the for-sheep mineral anymore. Are they craving copper? Maybe. But the goat mix is also very different, and very good-smelling compared to the plain ol’ sheep salt. So, I still need a fairer test before I can say for sure that it’s the copper they’re going after in the mix. I’m hoping to find a better side-by-side comparison to gauge their preferences.
The sheep are also eating kelp granules with a voracious appetite. I’d read and heard before that kelp also has a fair amount of copper in it. I can’t find a chemical analysis of the brand of kelp I feed; but a Thorvin kelp analysis I found says it only contains 4ppm. This compared to 1,750+ ppm in the goat mineral I bought. So, I’m thinking they are liking the kelp for other reasons- probably the high levels of iodine, potassium and sulfur- levels much higher than what’s in the goat mineral.
What other people are saying: the good
Of course I went to the Web to see what others have to say. I’ve found many comforting accounts of people using the Pat Coleby supplement on sheep for years, or other copper-containing offerings, with no toxicity events whatsoever. And most of those people give great praise to the results, saying that many health problems immediately cleared up once using the Coleby supplement. I also discussed this with a local producer of Icelandic sheep who has been feeding copper supplements for several years with good results, despite their vet thinking they are crazy.
There is a special copper advocate I’d like to mention because I’ve found her posts on all sorts of discussion lists and on her blog, and they have been most helpful to me. Barb Lee is a Barbados Blackbelly sheep producer in Oregon who had these same questions several years ago. She faced enormous opposition to her inquiries about sheep and copper. Sheep experts and vets told her she was nuts, and that Barbados were just a crummy breed of sheep, that nutrition was not the explanation for the poor performance she was seeing in her sheep. Since they are a dark-colored sheep (read: probably need more copper), and new to U.S. soils, she felt strongly there might be some copper connection there. So she pressed on, and convinced herself that she was right. Her blog has a plethora of information on soil tilth testing and improvement, as she has since moved onto more holistic methods for fixing her pasture, rather than just supplementing her animals.
What other people are saying: the bad
I did find two accounts of sheep toxicity occurrences, from people using the Pat Coleby supplement mix, exactly as directed in her book. So, it can, and has happened; and apparently the dolomite doesn’t protect sheep in all cases. This first reference of multiple sheep dying doesn’t give details of whether the copper toxicity was a confirmed diagnosis or not, but the writer continues to use the Pat Coleby mix for both cattle and sheep, but just omits the copper for the sheep. But he also says that he suspects his sheep would benefit from some copper, and intends to research it more in the future.
This blogger also had a single ewe develop copper toxicity, vet-confirmed, but was able to save her with quick intervention of a treatment of molybdenum (despite the vet’s guarded prognosis). That person switched to an expensive and high quality commercial mineral mix after that, with positive results.
I find it interesting to note that both authors imply that their whole flock didn’t have the toxicity, but only one or a few individual sheep. So there is some small comfort, that even if toxicity happens, hopefully it will be isolated, and the entire flock won’t all drop dead at once! It shows how complicated this is, that individual sheep within a flock can have different needs from the rest of the flock, when their environment is the same.
Balancing the benefits and risks
There is one more thing I want to do, and that is test my soil and forage. It will make me feel better if I can see that we are low in copper, or high in molybdenum, or both; and that indeed my sheep are facing a deficit. But even then, I’ll have no guidance of how much copper to give them. And because the toxicity event could happen months or years after offering a copper supplement, it would be really hard to determine what the “right” amount is, even for a specific herd of sheep. So, I think Pat Coleby is right, I’ll just have to give them choices and trust them to eat what they need. I think having the molybdenum antidote on hand and being vigilant to watch for symptoms, especially during times of stress, is a big step towards managing the risk.
So after much research and thinking, I’m resolved to the gamble of this experiment for the sake of finding out if I can improve foot health in my herd. I’m prepared for the fact that it’s possible I could lose some ewes. But hoof care is a tremendous amount of back-breaking work. And hoof pain severely affects the quality of life of a sheep, not to mention ability to forage, so thus, production and growth. So, for me, the potential benefits outweigh the possible risks, given careful management.
Plus, I’ve broken “the rules” of animal feeding before. I started feeding my dogs homemade, raw food during the time when almost everybody thought it was crazy. I had great results and stuck with it, and now look, it’s pretty mainstream. So, I’m not afraid to question commonly-held beliefs and step outside the standard way of doing things, when I feel there is good reason. But there is risk, undoubtedly; and we all have to take responsibility for our animal care choices, mainstream or otherwise, try to educate ourselves as much as possible, and be prepared for all consequences.
I figure I need to give the sheep 6-12 months to honestly assess foot health improvement, so I’ll be experimenting with the copper for a while. I’ll report back, of course!
39 thoughts on “Cu for Ewe(s)”
Wow! and some more WOW’s! Thank you for this post! I don’t have sheep and may never have sheep, but I do have goats and I give them the Pat Coleby mineral mix also… I think it is great and if I had sheep, I would do the same. It is great that you are willing to step out of the box. When we look at all the health problems our animals are having today, it just makes since to do something else…
Hi Linda, thanks! As I’ve been reading up on this subject, I’ve encountered much discussion as it relates to goats and horses too. There are definitely a LOT of Pat Coleby fans out there, but also some people who disagree with her theory, and the two camps have a lot to say to each other! 🙂 I’ve seen some nice pictures from goat owners showing the rust-colored hair that clears up and turns black again after supplementing with copper. It’s so interesting to me that sheep and goats are generally lumped together as “small ruminants” for veterinary purposes, but this seems to be one place where they really are different, that goats don’t seem to have this toxicity problem. I wonder why?
I think with the Katahdins having goat in their lineage it gives them a little more leeway as far as copper goes. Our PNW soils are leached from so much rain, a good mineral program of any type is important for continued health.
Also I think free choice can alleviate the feed mill mix-ups that are so common but never truthfully revealed to the farmer. Especially when livestock becomes ill after a change in feed or minerals.
That being said, I have found it easier to add small amounts of copper, and sulfur along with my Fetrell minerals than to make Pat’s mix. The Dolomite’s dustiness seemed to slow down the intake of the minerals.
Great post – with important information. Sadly I just read through a pasture based farm blog, where the farmer believes that his cattle and sheep don’t need minerals because he wants to develop hardy stock on what his grass provides. He has experienced heavy death loss in sheep from parasite infestation,and various birthing complications in his cattle. While he believes livestock shouldn’t receive shipped in minerals since buffalo didn’t, he thinks nothing of Cesearan sections on cattle and embryo flushing and implanting. So sad.
Again great post!
As an aside, I’m glad that the pasture-based farm blog writes up when things go bad, too. Too many times you don’t see the negative results. Cheers to him for being brave enough to write about it even when it’s bad.
matronofhusbandry, I agree, it’s a shame when people can’t clearly see the cost-benefit of doing some extra management to reduce catastrophic problems. I can see the merits of selecting for maintenence-free animals as much as possible, but if one finds that the entire herd is struggling with the same dilemmas, and it’s probable it’s not the breed of animal that has the vulnerabilty, it’s wise to do some looking into environmental or nutritional causes.
I heard a vet speaker recently lamenting how he had some organic clients who staunchly refused to use meds under any circumstances (even though there are ways to get vet approval for certain meds and still keep your organic status), and they were having big parasite losses year after year with no effort to address the issue. He was frustrated that they kept spending money for him to necropsy their animals, instead of treat them!
I guess everybody has to find their own system of what works for them, and what they think is the most economical balance of time, money and loss.
Imo, keeping animals confined and not providing for them the resources they’d have access to if they were truly free range, is a recipe for disaster.
I understand that the reason the Gypsies and their animals where so healthy is because they had more access to a wider variety of browse and herbage, the gypsies observing the plants the animals selected to self treat any ailments.
I’ve read that neither plants or animals will support parasites when they are well mineralized. My experience backs that up.
I’ve also known of others that only wanted to feed their animals local and ended up with a lot of death and disease. So sad.
Bruce, the writing about the bad is necessary, I agree. But, besides just the “stuff happening” type of goings on that occur. To say you will cull animals that don’t meet a certain criteria because they cost too much too prop up with minerals that nature provides…and then to spend $$ on a surgery that would be unnecessary if the cow had minerals is contradictory. If what he says is true about building a breeding program based on natural selection from the conditions his soil can provide, then his cows that can’t calve on their own should be culled and not kept in the breeding string. And embryo flushing and implantation? That is totally not a natural based practice. To say you are better than organic and to employ the modern hormonal reproductive practices is too incongruous for me.
I applaud bloggers like yourself and Michelle who write about what is happening at the time. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. That’s life, but as animal caretakers we have to take on a little more and not accept status quo. My neighbors are proud they are feeding hay already! I am proud I am not!
This comment is for matronofhusbandry’s comment that Katahdin’s have goats in their lineage- They DO NOT- and CAN NOT! Goats and sheep are seperate species and are not even in the same genus!
Although many people comment that Katahdins LOOK like goats- there is NO relation.
Yes, that’s true, goats and sheep can’t interbreed. Katahdins got their hair from African hair sheep import stock. But hair sheep breeds may well have different nutritional needs from wool sheep, given their very different ancestry.
Cadie, thanks for setting me straight. We have only 3 Katahdins and they have done well on Pat Coleby’s mix. Our ewes are ancient now, and we do not breed them, but they still look youthful to me and maintain good condition. A testament to the breed. Thanks again.
I would like to know more about, where I can get a supply of the Pat Colby Mix, I am a Sheep and goat farmer in Central NY.
I don’t know of anyplace that sells Pat Coleby’s recipe pre-mixed, I think you have to get the four ingredients and mix them yourself (or serve them in separate bins). Copper sulfate can be found/ordered by hardware stores, it’s used to clear plumbing pipes. Yellow sulfur is often in garden sections, for soil amendment or a natural insect repellant for garden plants. Dolomite (dolomitic lime) is easily found in garden soils, it’s a soil amendment meant to adjust the pH. Kelp is sold by some feed stores. I buy kelp from Azure Standard online, their price is good, it’s just tricky to find a drop point and coordinate pickups from them, as they don’t ship direct. There is also a website called “The Jolly German” I think, which sells goat supplies and carries some of the ingredients.
Good luck, I’d love to hear how it works for you if you try it!
I know where you can get it. This one he says is for horses, but it is the original Coleby’s mix: http://www.jollygerman.com/products/goats/horsemix.shtml and here is the one he sells as goat minerals which is Coleby’s mix with salt: http://www.jollygerman.com/products/goats/goatmix.shtml or you can buy each of the ingredients from him…
Thanks Linda! I had looked at that guy’s website before, but hadn’t noticed that he sold the stuff pre-mixed.
Keep up the good work. I use Pat Coleby’s mix on my goats it works good. Sheep,Iplan to use 2# copper . Jim
Jim, would love to know how it works for you! I’m still using commercial mixes, but with quite a lot of copper (though still not the enormous amount Pat’s recipe contains) and I like it.
I started using the Coleby mix last fall after having a mess of foot scald problems with my Katahdin ewes. We treated 32 cases last year prior to the new mix. This year we had one case which cleared up on it’s own and occurred during a period when the mix was not available (my neglect).
We recently had a 6 year old ewe die of pneumonia so I had the live analyzed for copper. it came back at 675 ppm which is below the >1000 ppm limit which I read on the Maryland sheep project page.
The copper sulfate I use in in a fine granular form, like coarse flour and contains some lumps which I am careful to break up when I make the mix. The mixing is done in a small concrete mixer which does a good job of making a uniform distribution of particles. The feed store sells copper sulfate for algae control and swimming pool treatment. This product is in a Christal form and I did not think it should be used because of the copper concentration in each particle seemed like it might be higher.
I am writing all this about the mixing because I too have read about the cases where folks have lost sheep using the Coleby mix. It occurred to me that it might be possible that some of these problems occurred with other sheep breeds which were more sensitive to copper but also it could have been
caused by improper mixing or the form of copper used.
Rod- I agree, my foot problems are mostly gone now that I’ve gotten the minerals right, and if I do have a sheep turn up lame, it’s usually after I’ve been remiss and let the minerals run out for a few days. I have had to tinker with my recipe quite a bit to get it right, currently I’m mixing 2 brands plus extra dolomite, and I think I’m getting pretty close to ideal. But I keep testing and adjusting, it’s a long cycle time.
I looked up the article you cited, curious about the 1000 ppm limit, I see it here:
This conflicts with what is cited by the lab I use (Washington State U), they say:
16 – 54 ppm (lamb)
25-100 ppm (adult)
100-249 ppm (at risk adult)
>250 ppm (pot toxic adult)
I take these with a grain of salt (no pun intended), since I suspect cited averages come from the population, not any study of what’s “ideal.” We can guess that the population is probably too low in copper in modern times, now that people have stopped using it; and thus, we probably don’t know what it really should be. My sheep test slightly higher than the averages, but none have gone over the 250 mark except for a cull ewe that I could never get weight on, she was at 340.
My understanding is that a sheep that dies from acute copper toxicity will have very telltale “gun metal gray” kidneys and dark red urine, so I think that helps with definitive diagnosis. I’ve heard of people having a sheep die of unknown causes, then the tissues or blood is tested and shown to be high in copper, and the vet automatically declares copper was the problem due to lack of other clues. *Especially* if the owner admits the sheep ever “got into” some cattle minerals, even one time; and even if the sheep had no stressful event as a precursor. This may be a mistake, though, as I think there are so many mysterious ways sheep can die that are not easy to diagnose.
I also wonder if there are other things going on with modern sheep that can explain the only-recent-in-history paranoia over copper. For instance, club lambs grown on diets high in concentrate, low in fiber and water may have a whole different mineral balance thing going on; as compared to a pastured sheep that’s taking in way more forage volume and water to dilute down any mineral concentrations. I think it’s much riskier in general to push a sheep on a high grain intake, it’s just a more delicate balance. Where with grass, it’s much harder to go wrong (tho still possible!).
I like your copper levels better than mine especially since their is so much conflicting information on how much is too much. It sound like what you are doing is aiming for the minimum required to be effective on feet problems, a practical approach. Can you share what products are in your present mix? Also what breed of sheep? Thanks.
Rod, I don’t really know what the right answer is either- my goal would be to hover in the “normal” range if I could, but I’m willing to be tolerant of higher if I feel the benefits outweigh the risks. I think I’ve found that it’s not just copper that’s needed, but rather also high zinc. Lately I’ve added dolomite, and I think that change is making their hooves harder and seemingly different in composition.
I have Katahdins. I am using one brand that has Zn, Fe, Mn, I, and Co; and a second brand that has Zn, Fe, Mn, Mg, Co, Se, Ca, P, K, and Cu. Then I add dolomite, which is Ca and Mg. But I think it’s different for everyone. I’ve found that testing the livers is most helpful; as when I was just testing soil and grass, I was going down a completely different path. But once I saw what was in their livers, it seemed to tell a different story of what they’re actually getting. So now I’m just trying to adjust to make it so their liver samples land where I think they should.
I wonder how long the cu levels persist in the liver, in other words once the liver reaches a certain concentration level does it ever decrease over time if the cu being fed is withdrawn? If not it makes it hard to bracket the effect of changes in the cu levels changes in the liver via. the mineral mix adjustments.
I have been thinking along the same lines, as you mentioned, about the other minerals being important for foot health. When I started having foot problems I was not feeding any mineral supplement other than Redmond salt and occasional kelp meal. After I went to the Pat Coleby mix I later added a special commercial mineral mix in a separate tub and now I wonder if that mix alone would be enough to toughen the hooves of my Katahdins. I know of other Kat breeders who do not have foot scald issues and do not use the Coleby mix but I assume may use other mineral mixes on a regular basis which I had not been doing. The commercial mix which I have been using lately has 5 ppm of cu in it. It’s a local custom mix available from my feed store. Yesterday I took all the Coleby out of my three bin bull feeder and reloaded the individual bins with this commercial mix, kelp meal and dolomite. I am going to try this for a while and see if the foot problems re-occur. I will let you know what I find out.
Rod, I’d love to hear what works for you as well, I’m always curious about people’s experiences with this. I think I agree with Pat Coleby that getting the minerals right is kind of the “holy grail” to health.
I think the challenge is just how different everyone’s land and situations are, that makes it hard to figure out what’s “right”; it ends up being unique for each farm and set of animals. For people on old farms, some are dealing with depleted soils, and others with soils which have been shifted in mineral content by years of fertilizer or manure application.
I also find foot problems to be related to the richness of feed. People don’t seem to talk about founder in sheep as much as they do horses, but I have found that this is a factor too. Especially with lame sheep that have no external signs of foot problems- sometimes I think it’s internal swelling. Every now and then, I’ll have a sheep get into grain and gorge, and not only will their bellies be miserable the next day, usually their feet hurt too. We have really high protein grass, and I find my worst lameness comes in the summer, when the grass is peaking, and is also wet from evening dew, so the sheep are really getting loaded up.
Ah I found it again (the Cu thread.)
I wanted to update my experience with the Coleby mix and feet problems.
I did as I had previously posted and removed the Coleby mix last november replacing it with a regular sheep mix plus dolomite and kelp and subsequently with the sheep mineral mix only. The mix I was buying had 5% cu but right after I started on this new program I noticed they took the copper out. Anyway since that time I have had only one instance of scald which I treated with coppertox and it has not reoccurred. Some new thought include these;
1. It seems possible that the elevated copper I reported (675 ppm) for my sheep liver sample has been migrating into the bloodstream. We know that this is what happens when copper toxicity is activated in the sheep under stress and it would seem safe to assume that the lower levels in my animals livers could be doing the same thing (every time i use my dog on them :)). This could explain what is still keeping my animals feet free of infection for the time being. If this is the case it probably will not last as the cu get depleted.
2. The second possibility is that it was a simple mineral deficiency that has been corrected as I now am careful to keep the loose minerals in front of them at all times.
3. The third possibility that I thought of is that during the long period that the sheep were under the copper treatment and residual foot bacteria on my farm died out do the lack of a host. I know foot rot bacteria has a shot non-host life span but an not sure about the foot scald culprit.
The nice thing now is “time will tell”. If it come back I will know it’s not the mineral mix or the life cycle of the bacteria that was the reason it stopped being a problem. And if it comes back it may confirm that the copper in my animals livers was in fact being effective but has depleted to the point of being non-effective and that an additional exposure period to re-build the liver concentrations may be in order.
In the meantime if I lose another sheep for other reasons I will be resampling the liver for copper.
Rod, thanks for the follow-up; I am finally catching up on bloggy emails in between lambing incidents! That is interesting, and I don’t know the answer either, it seems like all the theories are possible. I am still tinkering with my mix. I have backed down on copper, but am now adding zinc and sulfur, which are also supposed to be important for hoof tissue. I rarely have hoof problems anymore, and when I have a one-off, if I treat it once, it usually resolves within a couple of days. My sheep’s hooves don’t grow so aggressively anymore. So, something is working right for me.
I’ve also run across situations where a mineral mix doesn’t list all the components on the label. I first noticed it on our cattlemen’s mix. I asked the nutritionist about adding iron to it, since I am having trouble with low iron in my sheep. He said it actually does have it- and now I can see it listed in the ingredient list, but it’s not listed in the nutrition analysis.
I also ran into this recently when inquiring with a company that makes a special sheep mix which they advertise in magazines. Their website didn’t list the profile, so I emailed to ask about it. The owner was coy about answering my questions, so I finally called to ask again. He finally divulged that he didn’t want to tell me everything that was in the mix, nor the quantities, because he thought I’d just steal his formula and have it mixed locally. Sooo…. It makes me wonder if your mix does still have a little copper in it, but they aren’t sayin’? Does it appear anywhere in the ingredient list?
Maybe also your feed sources are varying in copper, or the things that bind with it. Maybe if you have enough copper in your feed, and it’s just a matter of avoiding an excess of things which tie it up?
It’s sooooo complicated, it seems all we can do is tinker until everything is working well!
The Copper used to be listed on the tag but it the new bags do not have it anymore.The mix is one made up special for a customer of the feed store for our area soils. That is all I know about it.
I bought cow pairs last year. The cows are Black Galloway and the calves were black angus cross and Herford cross. I was surprised that the Herford cross was red rather than the more dominant black of the cow. But I thought the Galloway cow could have other color genes since there are plenty of color genes in the Galloway breed. However the Herford cross, that was initially the larger calf, fell behind in growth and became rather stiff in his movements after weaning. This year the angus cross calves were a little muddy in color and the cows had a reddish tint to their coat by summer.
I was using a stock trace mineral supplement that many in the area use. I now after talking with the vet have started using a more expensive NW formula mineral with more copper. They are consuming quite a bit and are improving in color. The vets recommendation prompted me to read up on copper and I think it explains everything I saw happening in my runty steer. He has an improved appetite and is looking more vigorous but the movement issues may be related to permanent joint changes. I think it may still improve with remodeling of the joint that growth would still allow.
He will get tested for copper deficiency and will likely get a long acting directly administered supplement. Since this years calves are still looking great I’ll stick with the mineral supplements in them unless they test quite low. I have put off breeding the cows from Spring calving to a Fall calving schedule and will wean this years calves later than I would otherwise. Just to put stressors off until they have all had a chance to improve their winter stores.
In my reading I see that hard water is also a risk factor for copper deficiency and it can have minerals that directly effect the mineral uptake such as sulphates but also reduce the amount of salt they consume, so that you need higher copper levels in their mineral supplements. I suspect we have high molybdenum. I know we don’t have acid soils.
I read that copper added to the soil can have a very long (decades) lasting effect. I think if grazing various types of animals this might be a better solution. Since toxicity would be less likely if limited to the plant uptake level rather than supplement intake. But it is likely expensive. I haven’t checked yet.
I have irrigation rights to the river my land abuts and could develop a reservoir to combat the well water problem but really don’t have enough land to lose from grazing.
I know cattle require amounts of copper that are “toxic to sheep” so not terribly on topic for you but I thought I’d chime in with my experience. So far my cow owning friends in the area have not had my experience and haven’t heard of the problem. But the vet recognized it in a pasture tour to eyeball my small herd. When he comes back I’ll ask him how often he sees it or suspects it.
cathylee thanks for your comments. Interesting that your vet spotted it visually- I assume from the “spectacles” appearance that dark-colored animals tend to get? I have heard a vet around here say he sees it now and then (I’m not sure where you’re from). I’m not sure how practical it is to apply copper to fields, I’ve not looked into it either. At least with sheep, one would need to be careful not to over-do it. There are parts of the world that have high copper concentrations in the soil, and people do have instances of sheep dying from just too much copper in graze alone.
It was the red tint of the slow to shed winter coat in the black cows and possibly the lighter than expected calves this year. There are no light colored spectacles in the herd. Cu deficiency also effects the epyphiseal plates causing stiffness and lameness in calves. And my one steer that has not done well was rather stiff in his movements. It also affects the immune system causing more trouble with parasites.
Interesting that plants will take up enough copper to be toxic to sheep. Good to know. Hopefully adding it to soil would involve lower levels than that. Our neighbors have Icelandic sheep and he is an agronomist. He’s out of town a lot with his consulting work but I’ll be quizzing him when he gets around to reseeding a field of ours.
I suspect the pairs I bought were mildly low on copper allowing the Herford cross to be red and then on my land they became more deficient. All but the one steer look quite healthy and vigorous but most have some brown or red tint to what should be a black coat. I’m watching to see if the steer turns black over the next few months.
I forgot to say that I am in NW Montana. The cows had been in the middle of Montana before arriving here last spring. I live on deep glacier silt with lots of sand and gravel. I’m now using a purina cattle mineral mix formulated for the NW and it has about 3600 Cu. I took the trace mineral salt block out to encourage the granular mineral use. They are using a lot. 50# went quickly. Took about five days for them all to start using it. Next month I may put the salt block back or put a 12:12 selenium block in to provide a choice. Hope this won’t present any problem to my lama.
When I had a llama, she rarely showed interest in mineral salts. She did like kelp sometimes. We have a feed sales person here who is pushing our cattlemen’s association to switch from our custom mix to one of the Purina line. When I did a comparison tho, I didn’t like the Purina recipe as well. And when I calculated the cost by doing the math of how much cows will eat per day free choice, given assumptions about how much salt they want, I found it to be expensive. Our association has a custom mix made, and we get a good price break from many people ordering large quantities together.
I just reread this blog after realizing that I had veered off into the copper debate while posting a comment on the ‘Natural Sheep Care’ entry.
My idea of late, is that maybe, along with the soil and nutrients in the forage, that we should also consider the breed of our sheep.
So much of the information available on raising sheep, relates to wool breeds that have been bred for centuries. They have been developed for wool, or size, or some characteristic desired. This has transformed these animals considerably. What if the copper toxicity we have been led to be afraid of, is the result of this breeding? If I have Katahdins, Barbados or Dorpers, that have not been bred for centuries, then do they share this same copper toxicity as these other breeds?
Even Pat Colby mentions several differences in mineral requirements between Merinos vs. other breeds, black face vs. white face, etc.
Maybe we need a recommended mineral mix for a particular breed, then tweaked to match available forage and soil nutrients. I also think this would be a good project for the various organization (especially the Katahdin, Dorper, Jacob, and Barbados) to pursue. The agriculture departments in many colleges could possibly do trials using different minerals amounts and compare results. Eventually I think a workable solution can be found with more specific recommendations. Much better than just saying sheep need less copper than goats, which is about all I read (and can’t really say I believe it). Pretty sure that a 400 year old line of bred Merinos is not the same as Barbados.
Sure would love a recommended daily dose of nutrients and minerals for a breed of sheep that could be placed beside a soil or forage analysis and be able to determine what I needed to add to ensure my sheep were getting what they needed. Beats trying to chase diseases and health issues and finding out these facts later.
Joel, I think everyone is just super worried about the liability of recommending, or selling, any copper for sheep- nobody wants literal blood on their hands if someone’s sheep dies. I believe a couple of feed companies have been sued, so the industry reaction then is “no copper at all for sheep, ever.” Unfortunately… It does make me sad when I overhear feed store employees telling people that, tho, especially in my area where we have high Mo, and probably a lot of people *should* be supplementing with at least some copper.
There are so many variables in forage and feedstuffs, that it’s pretty tough to recommend to any one farm “use this much”- it really depends on what else they’re feeding, and all of the complicated things in there which may be binding with copper, or not. And, yes, breed variations, too. I’ve read a lot from the Shetland Sheep people, who also feel their “primitive” breed needs more copper than modern composite breeds.
I know University of Oregon has done some feeding trials looking at minerals, but it probably just comes down to what they can get funding to research, and for sheep, that’s often not much. Ultimately, I think we’re all stuck customizing for our own flock and environment, and testing to confirm results. And you raise a good point about soils, too- that ultimately, it would be ideal to fix the soil, so we could stop buying supplements. But that’s another whole adventure!
Hi Folks hope you are still happily farming. Such great info just wondering if you have any updates. wish you well elaine
Hi Elaine-yes, still farming, we had 105 lambs this year. Still feeding copper and having good luck with it! I’ve found a pretty good middle ground where their livers test adequate, but not too high, so I know about what amount they need in their mix. I hand-mix two different brands, then I add some things to it to get it where I want it. I’m still tinkering with the recipe, but I am almost to the point of nailing down what I think my custom mix needs to be; and I have enough sheep now to justify paying to have it made, I think.
I started using the copper oxide boluses last summer. My famacha scores really improved. I went from worming 15ish to 5. This is in a 45 sheep flock.There have been a couple of university studies in the south east to back it up. that’s why I tried it. In Europe, Australia, and new Zealand several companies offer delayed/timed release trace mineral boluses with and without copper. Some lasting upto a year. I found http://www.mayohealthcare.ie will ship to the US. Their bolus only lasts 6 to 8 weeks. So two treatments will get me through worm season here. It also contains some other minerals known to be deficent in my area.
Avery, thanks for the comment; it does seem like there is a growing body of users of copper boluses who have luck with them. I wind up with a deficiency if I don’t supplement with copper year-round, so boluses are less of an option for me. But definitely a interesting choice for just addressing the worm load season!