News & Advice

Copper supplementation in dry stock cattle

Jul 11, 2022 | Beef cattle, Bulls, Dry stock, Dry stock animal health & welfare, Grazing youngstock

Copper is an important trace element in both sheep and cattle for bone growth, nervous system development, the integrity of the immune system, digestion, development of the coat and much more. Deficiency can result in diseases such as swayback and osteoporosis, in addition to contributing to poorer growth, calving problems, reproductive problems, scouring and ill-thrift. Cattle are more susceptible to copper deficiency than sheep.

In New Zealand, copper deficiency can be associated with low dietary copper, or increased pasture molybdenum, iron and sulphur concentrations, all of which disrupt the absorption and utilisation of available copper in the diet. Seasonally there is low copper in the winter diet which coincides with higher demands for growing and pregnant animals. Also, the use of zinc to prevent facial eczema during the summer and autumn causes reduced storage of copper in the liver.


Why do we monitor Copper levels before supplementing?

Copper is poisonous and too much causes liver failure. Therefore, we cannot just supplement copper without knowing the animal status. This varies from year to year on any one farm depending on soil type, climate, pasture growth, fertiliser and diet.


When is the best time to test Copper levels before supplementing?

    • Pregnant cows before calving by liver biopsy
    • Rising one-year-old cattle in late autumn/winter by liver biopsy
    • Cull cows  in autumn and culled growing cattle at any time by liver biopsy

Copper is stored in the liver and so liver copper levels show the amount of copper available to the animal for the future. The copper is pushed into the blood from the liver, and these levels will only drop once liver stores are depleted, so while a deficiency can be confirmed with bloods, if the blood levels are normal, it will not tell you how much copper is in the liver at the time of blood sampling.

Liver biopsies in the live animal are a straightforward process and can be carried out at the same time as taking blood samples for other mineral and trace element levels, ask your veterinarian.

To have liver samples taken at the works, fill in a request form (available from your local Anexa Vet Clinic) and send it on the truck with the cattle, to be handed in at the works. Some freezing work companies also have forms with a space for this request, so when filling their form in, just request that the results are sent to us.


What Copper supplementation options are available?

  • Copper bolus. Effective for six to nine months. This will also increase the copper status in the foetus from birth to 9 to 10 weeks of age if given in early gestation. Slow absorption means that there is a reduced risk of toxicity.
  • Subcutaneous copper injection. Effective for one to two months, and absorbed quickly, so dangerous if overdosed.
  • Copper is added to drinking water using an in-line dispenser
  • Topdressing pasture in autumn or spring. Pasture should not be grazed until after rain, and pasture uptake can be variable. Also, the copper available to the animal will be affected by the other divalent cation elements in the soil/grass (molybdenum, iron, sulphur, zinc).


Can we inject copper at the same time as we drench or give vaccinations?

A common question we are asked is can I drench or give vaccinations at the same time as injecting Copper? It is recommended not to give copper injection with pour-on or injectable drenches. This is due to the extra load on the liver whilst the copper is absorbed which can cause a reaction in the stock (which can be fatal). If you inject with copper, wait a week before giving other treatments.


When is the best time to supplement with Cooper?

  • Copper supplementation can be given at any time EXCEPT when trying to prevent facial eczema, or before or during mating.
  • Supplementing copper by injection can increase an animal’s susceptibility to facial eczema.
  • Copper injection causes animals to stop cycling, so is not advisable in the month before mating, nor during mating.

There is a higher requirement for copper in growing and pregnant animals and during the winter. Therefore we see a lot of copper supplementation in the autumn and winter after zinc treatment has been finished, and well before mating.

Copper Capsules/ All Trace Boluses do not cause animals to stop cycling and are less toxic, so dosing with them can be more versatile.

Call us at the clinic to discuss any questions regarding testing, supplementations or if you suspect a deficiency.



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