One of the most widely mis-understood facets of raising goats is how much copper they require. Since I began raising goats full-time approximately four years ago, much re-thinking of this issue has occured. For one thing, 4 years ago people were under the presumption that too much copper was a bad thing and steered clear of pre-mixed feeds that contained high levels of copper.
Partially at fault for the lack of information surrounding goats and copper is the sheep industry. Nearly every breed of sheep have one thing in common - they can have very little copper in their diet. So it may be easy to see why goats fell under the same line of thinking - especially since the sheep and goat industry fall under one category in agriculture. Issues such as as the copper requirements for goats will certainly go a long way in helping to separate the two distinct industries.
As I entered the goat business, I was always on the look out for various feed and mineral types and perhaps like many others, preferably the feed and mineral that was cheapest price. For some reason in my area of Southwest Missouri, horse and cattle feed is considerably less costly than goat feed. That was, if I could get a "goat feed" at all. Many a feed store owner told me, "you feed em' the same as you feed sheep." Nothing could be further from the truth.
And the whole time I searched I constantly recalled many other goat owners telling me to not use a feed high in copper. So you might imagine our local feed store owners frustration with myself, standing in the store for hours on end looking at every feed tag I could find. I learned more about the different feed and mineral brands with each day.
The "goat/sheep block" I had been pretty much forced to purchase did not even contain a listing of the amount of copper contained on it (probably because there was none) and it concerned me somewhat. I immediately decided it was time to try something different and went with a loose mineral mix designed for horses and containing 1,250 ppm of copper.
A few of the other goat owners I told about this instantly told me that 1,250 ppm was way to much copper for a goat and it may kill them. Well, I'm happy to say that every goat I fed this loose mineral to (and have continued to do over the past three years) is still alive and well. And those same goat owners have since revised their original thoughts on how much copper a goat needs.
As I mentioned before, a great deal of the problem exists simply because the sheep and goat industry are classed one in the same. Yet, more research had been done on sheep than on goats and most just naturally assumed they had the same vitamin and mineral needs. The lesson to learn here is that if a feed store owner tells you goats and sheep can be fed the same thing, don't believe them.
Now that I've learned a bit more about goats, I've also learned that copper plays an important part in a goats health but also has certain restrictions on how much should or should not be fed. There have been recent studies performed on people and it was discovered that people with darker hair require five to six times the amount of copper than does a person with lighter hair coloring. How does this apply to goats? Just about the same in my opinion.
One of the other problems surrounding goats and copper (and moreover, goats mineral and vitamin needs specifically) is that there are basically two classes of goat owners; the goat owner that raises his or her goats as a hobby for pets, and the owner that raises his or her goats for the business aspect. One of these classes is bound to spend money to find out why a goat is suddenly ill or has died unexpectedly, the other may only go as far as burying the pet, having a good cry, and forgetting all about it.
Of course the owner that spends alot of money on finding out all they can about the sick or dead goat is going to get that much more information back in return even considering that not all vets are familiar with goats.
Photographs courtesy of:
Lisa Edinger, Carletta Robinette.