Copper is an essential trace mineral that’s important for the growth of bones, body, and wool, healthy nerve fibers, coat pigmentation, and white blood cell function. It’s needed for all grazing livestock, including sheep!
Late winter and early spring can be tough on livestock because of the wet and sloppy conditions. We’ve especially seen that here in Pennsylvania with the mild winter. It’s been a muddy mess! These wet conditions are tough on all livestock’s hooves because it can cause them to soften and lead to lameness. Lameness can affect your cow’s overall health by reducing her movement and feed intake because she’s spending more time laying down. If she’s laying down because she has sore feet, she won’t be eating as she should, which can result in a reduction in milk production. You can tell a lot about an animal’s health from their hooves. Hooves are on a one-year growth cycle. Any areas on the hoof that are not smooth and shiny can be an indicator of poor nutrition, acidosis, toxins or molds, a stressful event or acidosis, etc., from the past year. Hooves are primarily made of keratin, which is a protein that gives the hoof strength and elasticity. Copper is critical for the formation of cross-links in the keratin that help keep the hoof strong and hard. Sulfur is also very important for hoof health as keratin strands are linked together by sulfur bonds between sulfur containing amino acids for additional strength. Copper also helps prevent hooves from becoming dry and brittle. Copper is an essential nutrient for hoof health.
Copper has benefits in dealing with internal parasites. Managing internal parasites is a constant battle for grazing livestock. Animals infected with parasites can have a reduction in feed intake, reduced feed efficiency, and reduced growth and performance. Copper sulfate has been used as a dewormer by many farmers since the 1950s (maybe even earlier). It can work as a deworming agent against some parasites such as Haemonchus contortus (barber pole worm), which infect large and small ruminants. While it works as a treatment, making sure the animal is not copper deficient should help reduce the incidence of internal parasites. As mentioned before, copper is important for white blood cell function. White blood cells are the cells of the immune system that are active in protecting the body against infections and diseases. A healthy animal is less susceptible to illnesses. For reducing your chances of being challenged by parasites, it’s important to maintain a good free choice mineral practices and good pasture management.
Fertrell offers a Grazier’s Choice with Copper Sulfate which helps to meet your grazing livestock’s copper requirements. We also recommend that you offer kelp and salt free choice along with the Grazier’s Choice with Copper. I’ve heard on a couple occasions that animals fed kelp throughout their life are less likely to have internal parasite issues.
Copper deficiency can be seen in various ways such as decreased growth, rough hair coat, and loss of coat pigmentation. However, a brownish tint to black animals is a telltale sign of not enough copper in the diet. Forages and free choice supplements are both sources of copper. Therefore, copper deficiency can be from not having enough copper in your soils and forages. Again, it’s very important to test and know the mineral levels in your soil and forages. While that sounds very cliché, everything needs to be in balance. This holds true in all aspects of life and farming.