Studying the Use of Copper to Raise Healthier Goats

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2018: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/15/2020
Grant Recipient: Farmer
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Judy Langley
Windy Hill Farm


  • Animals: goats


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, mineral supplements, parasite control
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    Practically all goat farms have unsustainable devastating animal losses from internal parasites, in particular, Haemonchus contortus (H. contortus) and copper deficiency. A high percentage of goat farms are becoming resistant to dewormers and have begun to turn to copper boluses to treat H. contortus. Now more than ever, goats are becoming deficient or toxic in copper.

    The SARE grant require communications with several goat associations, and having lab tests run on goat livers to prove deficiency or toxicity in their goat herd. Most farmers do not do necropsies nor send liver samples due to the extra expense it would add to their budget. Getting liver samples from harvested animals is the only logical, safe way to make the determination of toxicity or deficiency. When goats die prematurely, the cause is almost always assumed to be internal parasites, but if they knew their animals were copper deficient or toxic in copper, rather than overloaded with internal parasites from resistant dewormers, it would be a cheap fix to change treatment procedures to give copper boluses to prevent premature deaths. Currently, there is an overuse of dewormers on goat farms and overuse creates several issues: chemical contaminants in manure which is bad for the soil; reduction of dung beetles; and unsustainable and unnecessary expenses to the producers. But the most important is resistance to dewormers.

    Our scientific solution to the problem of copper deficiency versus toxicity and the overuse of dewormers will require working with the South Carolina Veterinary Office to oversee the research, acquire liver samples from harvested goats, and invite members of several goat associations to be part of the research.

    Michigan State University performed the liver panel tests. The lab results were delayed several months due to the University's work with Covid-19 pandemic issues during the summer and fall. The results were evaluated and the veterinarian's report is attached to this narrative. We missed our goal of getting over a hundred goat livers due to unfortunate reasons beyond our control: 1) the two abattoirs that we worked with to save goat livers for us actually closed their doors during 2019 and 2020, 2) several of the frozen liver samples thawed prematurely, lost their identification information and were ruined, and 3} bad weather events -hurricanes, torrential rains and tornadoes prevented producers from traveling and participating. The samples that we did submit represent an average farm.

    All of the steps mentioned in the original proposal, included many visits to farms, connections throughout the goat industry, several workshops and meetings, and mailings. The Southern Goat Producer Association facilitated three workshops for the conversations about copper toxicity versus
    copper deficiency and deworming regimens. Those workshops were held on January 7, 2019, June 7, 2019 and December 12, 2019; there were about ninety-five attendees in total that received information in 2019 and at least that many people in 2018 through events that were held. There were many more events planned, but bad weather events and the Covid-19 Pandemic prevented them from happening.

    For this final report, Dr. Patty Scharko with Clemson University Livestock Poultry Health, analyzed and summarized the MSU data. Langley's summary of Dr. Scharko's analysis reveals that the liver is the major storage organ for copper. Copper {Cu) is an essential micromineral for all small ruminant species, and that copper oxide wire particles (COWP) may be an alternative to anthelmintics to control nematode parasites in goats. It was good news to learn that there were no mineral toxicities in the animals presented. Goats have a higher tolerance for Cu and higher requirements compared to other small ruminants and are more prone to present with deficiency disease. One goat had deficient (low) copper level and the others were low normal, not close to being toxic. This group of goats were severely selenium deficient.

    Project objectives:

    Acquired samples will be sent to a private laboratory and the SC Veterinary Office will assess the samples and give a report of the results. The results will show the levels of copper, and levels of compelling and antagonistic minerals. The results will substantiate suspected beliefs, and the report will provide proof to producers what they should be doing regarding deworming versus dosing or not dosing copper to eliminate H. contortus parasites.

    Cooperators will send invitations and newsletters to let goat farmers know about the study and get them on board to get liver samples and attend workshops to learn how to do a simple necropsy.

    The producers that participate in the research project will be required/asked to keep accurate records of monies spend on dewormers, copper boluses, and dosing supplies. Producer records and the Excel document information will be used to compare year one to year two.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.