Copper deficiency in goats has been a documented problem in many regions (North America, Australia, Europe, etc.) and is generally caused when livestock graze on pastures or are fed diets deficient in copper. In the United States, copper deficiency has been documented as a problem in Nigerian Dwarf, Boer, and Pygmy goats grazing on pasture in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and many New England states.
In addition to copper deficiencies in the diet, copper deficiency can be brought on by copper inhibitors in the diet such as iron, sulfur, molybdenum, and zinc that reduce copper availability. Also, alfalfa is a crop often fed to goats that is well known for its susceptibility to copper deficiency; and wheat, barley, and oats can also be deficient. Whatever the source, a copper deficiency can cause serious problems.
Problems associated with copper deficiencies in goats include severe anemia, stillborn kids, mastitis, osteoporosis, and many other ailments. Copper is essential for proper development of the central nervous system, correct bone growth, and hair pigmentation. Physical signs that a goat is deficient include thin-stiff coats, sparse tails, pale colored rings around eyes, reduced hair on the spine, oddly bent legs, or most commonly – loss of hair color.
In 1994, copper bolusing was introduced from New Zealand, and today is a very popular method of preventing copper deficiencies. Copper boluses are gelatin capsules containing thousands of tiny copper oxide needles. Copper oxide needles are fine copper wire, and are non-toxic when given orally. The capsules dissolve in the goat’s rumen and the needles lodge in the abomasum where they slowly dissolve and provide copper. Copper bolusing is generally done at 5 to 6 month intervals to provide continuous protection against copper deficiency as studies have shown that copper levels start decreasing rapidly after about 4 months.
The dose for copper bolusing is 1 gram of copper oxide in the bolus form per 22 lbs. of goat weight. Our goats weigh 51, 54, and 62 lbs. so for Tinker Bell (the 62 lb. goat), this means her dosage would be 2.8 grams. The smallest size of copper bolus that I was able to find commercially was Copasure in a 12.5 gram size – so the gel capsules have to be opened and the proper amount of copper oxide measured out and administered.
We did this by cutting the tip off of a syringe, pouring 2.8 grams of copper oxide rods into the syringe, capping with some Probios paste (to keep the copper rods in the syringe), and then shooting it into the back of their mouths. The idea is to get the goats to swallow the stuff, rather than chew it, since it’s supposed to lodge in their stomach and dissolve slowly. If they chew it, it probably just passes through them rapidly without having much positive impact. On our first attempt, Tinker Bell managed to chew some of it – so we’re still looking for better ideas on getting it in them.