Copper and Sheep : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

We have always heard and read that copper is toxic to sheep. Supposedly sheep can be killed from chewing on cattle mineral block, and we also heard that they can even be killed from grazing or eating hay from pastures that were fertilized with commercial chicken manure, which can contain high Cu levels. Anyway... I just happened to notice the label on the commercial grain mix that we supplement our sheep with. This stated that the analysis shows up to 5 parts per million copper (max, so probably not always this high). Does anyone have any thoughts or experience on whether this could be a problem? Does the copper accumulate in the animals until it gets to a toxic level? Would a mixture made to our own recipe at a feed mill have less Cu in it?

-- David and Kim (, March 03, 2001


We feed our sheep corn & hay so they don't have a copper build up. sheep cannot get rid of the copper that is in most of the comm. feed. some of the chicken litter hay. has a chemical built up. We supply them with supplement block that is made for sheep & goats. this is a protien block.hope that will help you also avoid feeding alfalfa hay because it is bad on the kidney.


-- walter tubbs (tubbs_walter@hot, March 03, 2001.

I looked through every reference book I have which could even remotely mention sheep and copper and couldn't find a single caution against sheep having access to copper. Kelp meal can typically contain four ppm. I have read about shepherds on the seacoast allowing their sheep free access to seaweed, and it contains copper.

I think you have to trust the people who prepared your commercial sheep feed know what they are doing.

If you want to prepare your own mix, I can give you some recipes out of The Stockman's Handbook by M.E. Ensminger. He is also the author of Animal Science, Beef Cattle Science, Dairy Cattle Science, Sheep and Wool Science, Swine Science, Horses and Horsemanship and Poultry Science. Most are considered to be almost Bibles in their field.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, March 04, 2001.

I will not buy cattle feed or any feed except corn or lamb creep feed. I thought of making my own feed. I only buy sheep loose minerals and salt. I know someone who didn't know there was cooper in there feed (told there wasn't) and lost a good portion of their sheep crop to cooper toxicity. I always wonder how sheep survived with a babysitter!

-- Debbie (, March 04, 2001.

The problem with copper in sheep is the use of so many products. If your grain mix has a minimum amount, your minerals have a minimum amount, your hay is grown in a non-defficent area, and then you use any kid of supplement, like Red Cell, Nutri Boosters or Fat products than you are over the limit on what a sheep needs. Sheep metabolise everything so quickly that their need for minerals are just so much less than any other ruminant. It is not that sheep do not need copper it is that they can utilise what they find naturally in hay and pasture, if you aren't in a difficent area. Vicki

-- Vicki McGaugh TX (, March 04, 2001.

Debbie: Old saying: Sheep are born looking for a place to die.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, March 04, 2001.


I agree, in the last few weeks I have had more lambing problems then some have in a lifetime of lambing and several did fine a place to drop. But, I can't stop loving those babies, got some cuties on the ground too. Debbie

-- Debbie (, March 04, 2001.

== We supply them with supplement block that is made for sheep & goats. ==

The problem with this product is that it'll probably have copper in it that goats need. But the sheep shouldn't have it. Check it out.

-- ~Rogo (, March 05, 2001.

Sheep DO need some copper, just not as much as is required by goats. The following compares sheep to cattle:

Sheep have different requirements than beef cattle, with copper being the prime example. For sheep, levels above 25 mg/kg of Cu are considered toxic, while cattle do not reach toxicity levels until 400 mg/kg are present in the diet. As Cu toxicity in sheep is swift and deadly, it is crucial that only minerals designated for sheep be used. Copper supplied in feed usually is adequate and sheep copper supplementation is unnecessary and dangerous.

-- ~Rogo (, March 05, 2001.

Rogo, what is the source of this information? That is just what I needed to hear. I take the last response to imply that 5 ppm max Cu in a supplemental feed is probably nothing to worry about if 25 ppm in overall diet would at the toxic level. We use a sheep/goat mineral and protein block too, which is essentially copper-free according to the analysis. Thanks to all for the responses.

-- David C (, March 05, 2001.

== Rogo, what is the source of this information? That is just what I needed to hear. ==

David C. ~ There are many sites on this subject on the web. My post came from this site:

And here's another site:

-- ~Rogo (, March 06, 2001.

Had to buy more trace mineral salt blocks for the cows. "American Stockman, Big 6, Mineral Salt for All Classes of Beef and Diary Cattle, Sheep, Pigs and Horses." Has a maximum of 380 ppm copper and a minimum of 260 ppm copper. It notes: "Caution: Sheep are copper sensitive. Consult qualified nutritionist or veterinarian to determine suitability of this feed for local conditions."

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, March 06, 2001.

Here is what it says on copper and sheep in Sheep & Goat Science by Emsinger and Parker:


A copper deficience may exist alone or in combination with the deficiency of cobalt and/or iron.

Copper is found in adequare amounts in most feeds through the U.S. the dietary concentration should be 5 ppm (6-7 ppm for Merino sheep, which are less efficient at absorbing copper than the British breeds) on a dry matter basis under conditions where molybdenum and sulfate levels are normal.

Copper-deficient areas have been reported in Florida and in the costal plains regions of the Southeast. In such areas, it is recommended that copper sulfate be added to the salt at the rate of 0.5%. Copper is stored in the body; reserves may last as long as 4-6 months when animals are grazing copper-deficient forage.

- Symptoms of copper deficiency. Lambs and kids may be born weak and may die because of their inability to nurse. Suckling lambs show muscular incoordination and partial paralysis of the hindquarters.

Copper-deficient sheep produce steely wool, lacking in crimp. tensile strength, affinity for dyes and elasticity. With a severe deficiency, the wool of black sheep is depigmented.

- Copper Toxicity. Characterized by hemolysis (dissolution of red corpuscles with liberation of their hemoglobin), jaundice (easily detected in the eyes), hemoglobinuria, and very dark-colored liver and kidneys - may result when sheep are fed diets high in copper and low in molybdenum. Copper toxicity may be prevented by lowering the copper level in the diet (normally is 8-11 ppm), or by a high-zinc diet (100 ppm on a dry matter basis). The recommended treatment of copper toxicity is (1) administering molybdenum and sulfate, or (2) drenching each lamb daily with 100 mg of ammonium molybdate and 1 g of sodium sulfate in 20 ml of water, for about 3 weeks. The Food and Drug Administration does not recognize molybdenum as safe; hence, it is not legal to add it to the feed of sheep. --------------- Thus, it sound like the feed you purchased was right on the mark on the amount of copper in it.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, March 08, 2001.

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