Copper Deficiency in Cattle


Trace minerals are essential to an animal for normal health and productivity. They act as the keys that assist in the utilisation of energy and protein within the body. As such they are important for normal growth, meat, wool and milk production, fertility and immunity. Trace minerals are required constantly but at certain times such during the growth of a young animal or during pregnancy and lactation or when experiencing increased stress for whatever reason, the animal’s demand can increase.

Deficiencies can present either as overt clinical disease or, more commonly, subclinically with less obvious signs but still significant productivity losses. If clinical disease is present this often the “tip of the iceberg” and many more animals are deficient and not showing obvious signs.   

Deficiencies of seleniumcobalt and copper are common in ruminants in many parts of Australia. We will cover cobalt deficiency in the next section.

Copper is essential for connective tissue production such as bone and joint cartilage, hair and wool development including pigmentation, production of red blood cells and also for nervous system function. Animals can be deficient because they do not get enough from their diet, known as primary deficiency, or if there are interfering elements in the diet which reduce copper absorption. Elements such as molybdenum and sulphur for example, which are often included in fertilisers, can block absorption of copper.

Copper deficiency can be a problem on irrigated, lush green pasture, acidic, coastal sandy, granite soils and peaty swamp land, pasture fertilised with lime or molybdenum-based fertilizer. Copper is better absorbed when pasture dries off (summer) in comparison to spring pastures. Cattle are more susceptible to deficiency than sheep and some breeds e.g. Simmental and Charolais cattle have a higher copper requirement than others e.g. Angus cattle


Signs of copper deficiency include, Ill thrift, abnormal gait and lameness, poor immunity (increased evidence of parasites), altered coat and pigmentation, pale, rough coats, spectacled appearance around the eyes, reduced milk and meat production and poor reproductive performance demonstrated by delayed puberty, early embryo death, anoestrus, cystic ovaries, impaired ovulation.


As with other elements, deciding on whether to supplement or not should be based on a diagnosis of a deficiency. Excess copper can be toxic so checking prior to treatment is strongly advised. Plant and soil testing is often carried out but provides only secondary evidence because other factors influence copper availability to the animal. Liver testing is considered best as copper is stored in the liver but blood copper is adequate in most cases to confirm a diagnosis of copper deficiency

Copper supplementation can be provided via oral boluses or loose licks or via subcutaneous injection. Many injectable formulations are very irritant and cause serious injection site reactions. Oral capsules deliver copper over a long period of up to 12 months without the tissue damage caused by injectables.

Copperplan 20

Copperplan 20 are oral capsules for adult cattle over 200kg bodyweight. Each 20g capsule contains 16g of elemental copper as copper oxide needles. The capsule is administered by a balling gun and dissolves in the rumen releasing the copper needles which slowly release copper. The copper is stored in the liver and available when required. Supplementing the cow will benefit the foetus while in the uterus also. As copper is stored in the liver, it is important to avoid treating cattle with liver disease or jaundice such as may be caused by infection with liver fluke or exposure to liver toxic plants like heliotrope or Paterson’s Curse. There are no withholding periods with Copperplan 20

To be effective, the capsule must be swallowed. Use a Copperplan 20 applicator to deliver the capsules directly into the gullet.


Excessive copper is toxic. The product is contraindicated for use in cattle suffering from jaundice and other liver disorders such as liver fluke, or stock grazing plants containing toxic alkaloids, e.g Heliotrope, Ragwort, Patersons Curse (Salvation Jane).