Is Copper Deficiency Killing Our Sheep? Micronutrient Availability and Their Effects on Sheep Health and Production.

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $29,955.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2024
Grant Recipient: WVU Extension
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Alexandria Smith
WVU Extension


  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed additives, mineral supplements
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    Elevated levels of Cu in sheep diets can be toxic and has prompted mineral distributors to remove this component for fear of causing  death. However, deficiency of Cu in sheep can also have deleterious effects on sheep growth, reproduction and general health.  Therefore, knowledge of Cu levels in forage and water consumed by grazing sheep, as well as levels of Sulfur and molybdenum may provide more specific guidance for sheep producers in WV and about how they may address the impact of cu-deficiency. Thus, the  aim of this project would be to evaluate micronutrient availability in WV pastures  and determine the impact of micronutrient supplementation on sheep production and health issues. 


    The most reliable method for determining the impact of Cu deficiency on sheep performance is to compare Cu-supplemented  and unsupplemented groups grazing the same pasture and record any changes in animal performance or the prevalence of clinical diseases. If Cu supplementation results in a significant beneficial response, then a diagnosis of Cu deficiency can be made with confidence. (Suttle 1994).


    Initially, soil, forage and water, on participating farms in West Virginia, will be tested for micronutrient levels.  This determination will provide data about Cu levels but also levels of other micronutrients that may impair Cu metabolism in sheep. These data are critical components in the underlying hypothesis and previous literature that indicate pasturelands in West Virginia are deficient in Cu. Moreover, these data will serve as a rationale for evaluating sheep performance when safely supplemented with Cu.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to:

    1. Evaluate the need of the micronutrient Cu in sheep. Is lack of adequate Cu in a sheep diet causing decreased production and higher incidence of other disease occurrences?
    2. Determine the level of micronutrients; molybdenum,sulphur, iron and zinc at each research location in regards to drinking water, soils, and forages. 
    3. Determine the impact of supplemental Cu on disease issues such as foot rot and internal parasitism, increased growth, and overall production.
    4. The  project seeks to establish Cu supplementation guidelines for sheep producers in WV and testing procedures before beginning to do Cu supplementation with soil, water and forage testing.


    Through years of research we know that there are the antagonistic effects of other micronutrients; molybdenum, sulphur, zinc, iron on Cu uptake. In this particular study we are trying to determine levels of micronutrients on each research site through baseline documentation of soils, water, and forage analysis. 

    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.