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    Treating Copper Deficiency in Goats

    September 20, 2013 by Brandy Vencel
    Treating Copper Deficiency in Goats
    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]his past kidding season, we had a couple situations that surprised me, and I had a hunch that the cause was some sort of deficiency. It took some detective work, but I’ll share what’s happened so far, and maybe some of you fellow goat owners have something to add to this conversation.

    The first incident was the birth of our goat Charlotte’s first kid. Patch was a cutie, and he looked very healthy, except for one thing: he had floppy feet.

    If you’re familiar with goat anatomy, then you know that it is almost as if they walk on their tip toes. The hoof is where the “toe” is and they walk en pointe, to use some ballet imagery, while a bit further up the leg there is this bit of what I can only call a “heel” that you can find if you look for it. I never thought about this before I had poor Patch, flopping around on his whole “foot.” He looked like he had ankles.

    I didn’t know a name for this condition {still don’t}, so I did my best to Google. I had read Pat Coleby cover to cover and never came across anything like this that I could recall. I found a blog post by an older gentleman that basically said that in his breeding “this happens on rare occasions” and he found that the kids’ legs stiffened up by the end of the first week.

    With Patch, I found this to be true. By the end of the week, he was walking on his hooves like a proper goat. But still I was concerned about what this meant about the health of my little herd. Charlotte has always been my most beautiful goat, and she still looked great, even after pregnancy.

    copper bolusThe second incident followed quickly on the heels of the first, with the kidding of our other doe, Reece {whose name I also spell Reese because, inexplicably, I cannot remember how her name is supposed to be spelled}. Reece/Reese had twins again this year, and they were adorable as only twins can be.

    We named these two Jet and Sandy. Sandy’s coloring was the “incident” of which I speak. It didn’t seem right. I wasn’t sure that Reece, genetically speaking, should have been able to throw a white kid with this breeding. Plus the color didn’t quite look like other white goats we’d had on the property before. Sandy had hints of every color in his coat, to the extent that I wanted to name him Joseph.

    I was outvoted by the minions.



    Time went on, and the mama goats were insatiably hungry. Yes, they just gave birth. Yes, they were nursing, one of them twins. I can’t explain why I had red flags over this, but I did. They were frantic. We were feeding them three times what a normal goat in their size and stage would be eating, and they were not satisfied.

    I started doing research on Sandy’s coat because I thought it might be a clue.

    In the meantime, Charlotte began to lose hair. A lot of it. This was the final “incident.” Charlotte’s coat became so thin I could see her spotted skin through it. Her tail thinned to where it looked like a fish’s tail — parted in the middle. Yes, she was struggling with parasites, as most goats do after kidding, but we had done the post-kidding parasite battle before, and this was just a whole new level of difficult, plus we had the issues with the kids, which indicated a pre-natal condition.

    I did some research and found that there is a condition called Fish Tail and it indicates…

    copper deficiency.

    I first thought that this could not be. I have followed Coleby’s instructions and therefore my goats have always been dosed with way more copper than is considered standard.

    When I did more research, I found out that there are a number of things that can cause copper deficiency, and a lot of them were things over which I can never have control because I do not have a large property. You see, hay can be a root cause. It can be overloaded in other trace minerals {selenium and sulfur, to name a couple} that cause the animal’s body to dump copper, or not absorb it in the first place. It can have certain qualities from being grown with irrigation instead of rain {which ours is}. And so on and so forth.

    I won’t go into all of my research, but I will say this: after treating my own backyard pasture with some things I thought might help, I decided to further research supplementation. It was really my only option because I’ll never be able to grow enough food for my goats. I will always be at the mercy of a farmer who may or may not grow hay with the best practices. And because we irrigate here, it is up for debate whether practices will solve the entire problem.


    As I was saying, I did research. I found that Pat Coleby’s suggestion to supplement with copper sulfate is fine as far as it goes, but copper sulfate isn’t as easily absorbed by the body as copper chelate. So I went to the store and bought a mineral containing the chelate in addition to the sulfate. I hated to do this because it also had a couple ingredients I disapproved of, but, honestly, chelates are expensive to buy in isolation, and I didn’t know how to dose them that way anyhow.

    The new minerals helped a bit {and all of our old minerals were still out so that the goats could dose themselves as they liked}, especially since I was top-dressing {my normal practice} so that I knew they ate it. But I wasn’t seeing the improvement in Charlotte’s or Sandy’s coats.

    copper bolus dosage:
    1 2g. pill/50 lbs. weight

    That was when I found out about copper bolusing.  Now, copper bolus are tiny copper oxide rods stuffed inside a capsule. When taken, they lodge in the goat’s rumen and throughout the digestive tract, and then are slowly broken down over time. These tiny pills are surprisingly heavy.

    I bought the kid dosage so that I didn’t have to try and split a pill for the babies. I didn’t want to send these kids to new owners in any condition other than the absolute best, so they were dosed the same day as the does. We fed them the pills inside of a ball of peanut butter and herbal wormer {mixed with a bit of molasses}.

    {An option I didn’t try, but about which I’ve heard good things, is to simply use a bolus gun and force them to take the pill.}

    I was a little nervous about it, but they ate them down without complaint. I believe the twins were about four weeks old at the time, and Patch was about six or seven weeks. We sold Patch soon after, so I couldn’t watch him for any “improvement,” though admittedly he had no symptoms after his legs stiffened up.

    copper bolus

    The twins, however, were with us for three weeks after. Now, Jet had no noticeable symptoms, but Sandy, as you know, had a questionable color about his coat. At right is what he looked like two weeks later. Notice that his color is coming in! This poor goat was supposed to be brown!

    By the time we sold him {about a three weeks after this photo}, he was a light brown all over, with a full black ridge on his back. He was still light around the eyes and face, but I made sure the new owner purchased some proper minerals, and he should be fine today, especially since he lives in the mountains and is free to eat lots of weeds and leaves.

    What was most remarkable in terms of our quality of life was in regard to the does. When I say they were insatiably hungry, I don’t just mean they were willing to eat whenever we were willing to feed them. That is normal goat behavior. I mean that I know the cry of my goats when they are hungry, and they gave that cry constantly throughout the day. They cried and fussed, like a toddler on a low-protein, low-fat diet. They overate in volume, but never gained weight. They acted like they were starving when clearly they were given plenty of food.

    I gave them the bolus on a Friday evening, and the next morning I was shocked to wake up at almost 8:00 am. The goats had been consistently waking us up at sunrise to demand their first feeding. Because we live in a neighborhood, we do not have the luxury of making them “wait,” so when sunrise was 5:30, well, that was when we were getting up {to my husband’s great dismay}.

    That entire first day after the bolus, the difference was remarkable. We fed them normal amounts at normal intervals, and they did not complain or ask for more. They also stopped chewing on the children’s trampoline.

    Fast forward to this past month. I noticed at the end of August {three months after the original bolus} that the goats were starting to get difficult again. They were complaining more often, and acting hungrier. I know they are also getting ready to be bred, and it dawned on me that when I had researched copper bolus, people in areas of severe deficiency were bolusing every three months, rather than the suggested every six months.

    So I bolused them again. And they are doing great. They are quiet and happy. Charlotte’s coat and tail are back to normal. More importantly, I think they are more prepared for breeding than last season.

    Which is good, because there is a very special buck coming to visit our place, starting on Saturday.

    By the way, I really do think Pat Coleby is correct in that worms do not thrive in goats with proper copper levels. We haven’t had to worm our does since we began bolusing. I’m sure we’ll still need to worm them after kidding and at other peak worming times, but there is no longer need for the weekly worming associated with most herbal wormers.


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  • Reply Jennifer Rigert August 8, 2018 at 7:38 am

    How fast do you see results after the bolus is inserted?

  • Reply jane { WF2 } March 20, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    Just gave all my doe Cobalt bolus, vet said wait 2 weeks then Copper bolus. Can’t wait to see if there is a different. Spring of 2017 , never had barbar worms before, they have caused tons of problems plus lost 2, breeders not bred, headaches !!! Had 11 kids, lost 3 at birth, 1 with 180 degree twisted gut counter clock wise. First doe i got is down now, gave her meds 3 times for worns, giving vit b-2 shots she wont eat
    She is drinking. … Raising twins doe inside. What a year may 2018 be tons better.

  • Reply Melanie March 22, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    This thoroughly helped with my current situation! Thank you! Is there an email where I can ask a few more question in order to help my girl?! I just know for sure she needs some help and today was the day I was a 100 percent sure of it! Any additional advice would be awesome!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 22, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Melanie, I highly recommend the Totally Natural Goats Facebook group — they offer fantastic advice and you will have a multitude of counselors. 🙂

  • Reply Pamela April 5, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    A light bulb went on today, and I am sure we are dealing with copper deficiency. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the copper boluses! Do you worry about giving the bolus on a relatively empty rumen? I have a doe (who is in the worst shape, to be honest) who just freshened last week. Her kids both appear fine, active and healthy. She has been consistently anemic(I wormed her monthly, and recently started giving her iron shots) and went down on her pasterns half way through her pregnancy. Any thoughts at what age you would treat the kids?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 6, 2016 at 8:24 am

      I have never worried about how full or empty the rumen was — it always seemed to work regardless. 🙂

      As far as treating young kids, I don’t know what the common wisdom is, but I know that with the little guy that was born deficient, I wish I had done it right away. It just took a while for me to realize what was going on. But honestly, if a kid is born selenium deficient, we treat right away, so my theory is why not the same with copper?

      • Reply Michelle March 19, 2018 at 9:01 am

        Hi, Thank you so much for this info.. I am seeing this in my herd and I had some alarming birthing issues and I’m sure this is the cause.. I had read that kids shouldn’t receive copper supplement til 6 months or older. Is this safer? Thanx

        • Reply Brandy Vencel March 19, 2018 at 10:13 am

          For me, I decided it was worth the risk. I had kids born so obviously deficient that I was sure they’d die before they were “old enough” to supplement, you know? So once they were eating hay okay, I opened up one of those pills and smuggled it into their feed. There are some weeds that contain copper, too, which might be the safest option once they are grazing. I think ragweed is one? You wouldn’t want to grow it, but if you have access to it, you could try it. I highly recommend the Totally Natural Goats group on Facebook because they have ways of supplementing that are more gentle, especially on kids. 🙂

  • Reply Keeli April 5, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Did you dose the adult goats using peanut butter as well?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 5, 2016 at 8:58 am

      I have when they’ve been resistant. Some of them will just take it. 🙂

  • Reply Coretta February 16, 2016 at 7:05 am

    I have a 2 month old doeling, black with some white frosting. She recently developed a small reddish patch and I suspect copper deficiency. My 2month old buckling is not showing visible signs but he is always hungry and eats more than the doeling… And he’s 3lbs smaller than her! Do you think that might be related also?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 16, 2016 at 8:50 am

      A year after I wrote this, I bought a goat that was almost entirely black. For her, the very fist sign was always have a reddish patch on her back leg. So yes — if they were my goats I would definitely think the issue was related.

  • Reply deb February 15, 2016 at 9:12 am

    thank you im have issues with my angoras is it the same for all types of goats?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 16, 2016 at 8:49 am

      In Nature Goat Care, Pat Coleby seems to approach goats as goats, for the most part. I highly recommend the book, if you want to learn more about copper needs! I have never raised angoras, but still, Coleby says that *all* goats have very high copper needs.

  • Reply Tony carl August 1, 2015 at 3:19 am

    I have lost two goats in three years to worms, but when I read this I realize they had copper deficiency too. Nanny just died her coat looking bad, tongue white, and she had been wormed regularly. Her son was born beautiful black his coat is faded red. He just turned 3 months old. Can I bolus him safely at his age? I bought a buck that was very young. He cried constantly for a year. His coat looked rough. I was told he would be a sickly goat forever. Fed him pepto bismo then started him on water kifer. His coat is beautiful, shiney. The color is vivid now. Black no longer looks faded, but his tail looks like a fish hook. Kifer has clearly made his coat beautiful, and hair has grown back on his tail. He isn’t crying all the time, but I don’t want to loose him also eventually. So even though he looks better, should I bolus him.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 1, 2015 at 8:07 am

      You can bolus at that age, yes, just make sure that you buy the size for kids — they actually make a smaller dose for that. With that said, I have always bolused based on symptoms — so if they are sickly, if you pull down the eye and the membrane is a light pink or white, or if you have to worm him a lot — those are the signs I have always looked for in whether bolusing is necessary. If the water kefir is causing such improvement, it makes me wonder if it actually has copper in it, or maybe is just helping him digest and assimilate copper more easily? Either way, you make me want to try it! 🙂

  • Reply mary June 20, 2015 at 10:35 am

    I have found my copper bolus on Valley Vet’s website. they have two sizes one for under 25lbs and then one for adult goats. Hope this helps everyone. Thank you for reminding me how good copper is for goats.

  • Reply the Goodwife May 8, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Wonderful post and something I’ve just begun addressing myself! I’m doing a blog post about my adventure in copper bolusing as well. Could I post a link to this post? I’m specifically interested in sharing about the white (brown) kid. Please let me know if this would be ok with you! 🙂 Thanks so much.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 8, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      Share away! I would love to read about your experience. 🙂

      • Reply the Goodwife May 9, 2015 at 4:36 am

        Thanks so much! I’ll be posting it in the next few days! 🙂

  • Reply Karla May 2, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Thank you so much for taking the time to describe this. I had heard of people bolusing but wasn’t sure what they were talking about.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 2, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      You’re welcome! 🙂

  • Reply Anonymous November 14, 2014 at 2:21 am

    where did you get the copper boluses? how di you know the correct dosage? we have been having a terrible time with worms and we cant seem to get ahead. they have plenty of space and good living conditions, plenty to eat. I just cant figure it out. I have read about them before and am interested in trying

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 1, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      I bought mine at Amazon. The post contains links to the exact product I bought {in the dosage for kids}. Some of them were broken {which might be why you were asking}, and I’ve fixed them. 🙂

  • Reply Mosey September 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    I’ve never heard of the copper bolus. So glad you’ve found a solution!

    • Reply Kelly September 20, 2013 at 7:11 pm

      Oops. That was me. Didn’t realize my daughter was signed in.

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