Sheep and dietary copper

Beekissed

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When I peruse this site: https://www.wormx.info/browseplants

...and see how much copper my sheep are ingesting each day as they graze some paddocks that are entirely of browse plants such as these and other tree and vine fodder, I have to wonder about all the paranoia surrounding copper levels for sheep. I know they are also consuming things that bind that copper but just how much? Their two main loves of autumn olive and multiflora rose are 12.6 and 12.9 ppm, respectively, and sheep supposedly should have no more than 5-7 ppm.

Since sheep minerals come without any copper at all and grass based sheep aren't eating any feeds that could have copper, what are those folks doing who have no good browse in their pasture? Is this why so many black sheep look brown out there?

And if copper supposedly builds up in the liver, how are my sheep able to graze high levels consistently without any ill effects?
 

Mike CHS

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Before we started with sheep, we read various articles that just added more questions than answers. I quit looking when I ran into an article from a farm that had been adding copper at certain times but quit based on his research. Only to wind up losing an epidemic like number of sheep due to copper deficiency.

About that time I gave up on finding something definitive about copper.
 

Beekissed

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Before we started with sheep, we read various articles that just added more questions than answers. I quit looking when I ran into an article from a farm that had been adding copper at certain times but quit based on his research. Only to wind up losing an epidemic like number of sheep due to copper deficiency.

About that time I gave up on finding something definitive about copper.

I've found the same frustration in doing research on the topic. So many people telling newbies to beware of copper, describing horrible death numbers due to copper toxicity but you never hear of stories like that man's, on the opposite side of the coin.

Somewhere in the middle seems to be the answer, as it usually is...everything is good, nothing to the excess.
When it comes to the copper levels in browse and considering hair sheep thrive on browse, I can't see how it can be bad for them and one couldn't control that anyway. It is what it is.

@Mike CHS , how do you handle copper needs at your place? Do you have good levels in the pasture/soils already, good browse or do you supplement copper in the minerals, such as in using a mineral buffet style?
 

Mike CHS

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I looked in my info folders but couldn't find the article I was looking for but in summary it indicated copper was one of those things that if you don't have a problem, don't create one. Our second year here I had soil tests done on two paddocks and in the fall, we sent hay samples to be tested. The paddock that was untreated is typical of most of our place in that I haven't done much in the way of treating for unwanted growth other than to keep it cut until the browse got to where I was satisfied. I did spray areas that had solid growth of green briars but the sheep will even eat those when the plants are young. I sent hay from the same paccocks to be tested. The paddock that came back deficient in a couple of areas was one that I had spent a lot of time and money by treating both with 2-4-D and then proper application of lime. The paddock that I was the least pleased with due to the amount of "invasive" weeds was perfectly normal. That was when I decided to leave it alone unless I started to see problems.
 

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I looked in my info folders but couldn't find the article I was looking for but in summary it indicated copper was one of those things that if you don't have a problem, don't create one. Our second year here I had soil tests done on two paddocks and in the fall, we sent hay samples to be tested. The paddock that was untreated is typical of most of our place in that I haven't done much in the way of treating for unwanted growth other than to keep it cut until the browse got to where I was satisfied. I did spray areas that had solid growth of green briars but the sheep will even eat those when the plants are young. I sent hay from the same paccocks to be tested. The paddock that came back deficient in a couple of areas was one that I had spent a lot of time and money by treating both with 2-4-D and then proper application of lime. The paddock that I was the least pleased with due to the amount of "invasive" weeds was perfectly normal. That was when I decided to leave it alone unless I started to see problems.

From what I'm researching with people who are doing managed intensive grazing, weeds are a sign of some sort of deficiency in the soil and the weeds that spring up help correct the deficiency. Don't remember the particulars on how that happens but it makes sense. The first thing that came up in our deforested areas were tree sprouts, nuisance shrubs and briers, and various weeds. The sheep are currently eating those like kids in a candy shop.

Supposedly, once those are grazed off, the soil will start putting out various species of grasses and legumes from the seed bank....can't wait to see THAT part. They say not to get discouraged by the weeds and start trying to poison them off, as they are helping correct the imbalances in the soil. Said trust the process and we'll start seeing a change from weeds and shrubbery to grasses and legumes within 2-3 years....might be slower because we are only using sheep and don't have the cattle to impact the land more.

Could be by removing those weeds with the poison they didn't get a chance to correct your soil imbalance in those areas?
 

Mike CHS

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Could be by removing those weeds with the poison they didn't get a chance to correct your soil imbalance in those areas?

That about sums it up and is also the reason I quit treating. We have been working our place for a little over six years now and overall I let the sheep take care of the grass. I still spot spray a little but it is very little inside the pastures.
 

Beekissed

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That about sums it up and is also the reason I quit treating. We have been working our place for a little over six years now and overall I let the sheep take care of the grass. I still spot spray a little but it is very little inside the pastures.

I definitely have a whole new view of weeds and nuisance species since studying up on this MIG. I am now more willing to let time and the sheep correct what's wrong in our paddocks....it's easier for me and carries no cost. Can't get any better than that. Of course, I'm overly eager to see the end of the process, so I'm constantly looking for change.

My mother, on the other hand, has waged war on multiflora and autumn olive for nigh on 44 yrs now and has a hard time understanding that the war is over. That we've made peace with the enemy and are currently consuming them. :D =D
 

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I am also of the mindset that the sheep are not as affected by copper levels if they have a chance to graze and browse as they prefer. I don't worry about them getting the same mineral as the cows. I keep a higher level of Vit A due to the pinkeye problems, but also have kelp as a trace mineral supplement in it, DE for the worm problems in the cows. We do not regularly worm the cattle. Bought cattle, and a few occasionally that look thinner at preg check, will get pour on wormer, but that is about it. Well, often if we retain weaned calves they will get wormed because they seem to have a "bloom" of worms when weaned off the cows.
We do fight the multiflora rose at rented pastures because fences will not allow the sheep to be grazed in them. Our sheep are not as tame as yours, the dalls are semi wild and the only ones that we can tempt much with a bucket are bottle lambs we have raised. Don't raise them anymore as it is not cost effective for us; we get more for them at the sale as babies than we can justify keeping them.
Our biggest thing is thistles, the cows just won't eat them much. sometimes if they are cut and wilting, but they don't like the prickliness and I sure don't blame them. Don't have much for multiflora or any type of briars where the sheep are.
 

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From the horse side, iron binds copper. That's what I've read in horse hoof groups.
When I had my well water tested, I had too much iron and a couple other things.
My horses & sheep eat the multiflora rose, I cut the wild olives. I have one pony who likes to carefully pluck off the flowers of thistle. They'll all do it if there's no grass left, though.
I mixed a pellet with copper in the spring with regular grass pellets, but I need to find a source of copper mineral to mix in a low dose with salt to offer separately.
I have so much going on all at the same time right now, but hoping I can get all the mineral mixes sorted for both sheep n horses by next year. I need 8 bins with dividers in dry places for the sheep and one divided one for the horses. Hoping to see improvement in hooves on horses & curious to know if it will do anything for sun bleaching in the wool sheep.

I'm curious to know if anyone has gone from no copper in diet to added copper(pellet/mineral) and the results in a year to the hooves, wool, lambs, worm resistance and general health. Do you have high iron levels?
Did you have any high stressors, like predation, bad lambing, so on, once the copper was added and if so, did any die? Tested them after death? Supposedly, the stored copper kills in high stress events.
 

Ridgetop

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I used to worry more about copper in my goats than in my sheep. At one time every goat breeder was almost hysterical about copper levels and were adding copper to their feed, even copper boluses. I did not do that even though I was warned by others that I could lose my entire herd if I didn't. My milk yields were very high and consistent, we were on test, It would have been noticed in yield levels,

When we got to a large number of milkers (15-20) I started buying grain in bulk. I could only get dairy cattle grain which has a slightly higher amount of copper. The goats did very well. We never gave any of that grain to our sheep.

I don't worry about any copper levels in grazing or browsing sheep. If sheep ingested too much copper from browsing or grazing they would long go have died out to only the hardy copper resistant ones. Generations of shepherds have existed by simply allowing their sheep to graze and browse with no harm. Grazers eat pasture grass, but a lot of us that have Dorpers or Katahdins have sheep that genetically are wired to browse. Browsers rarely eat too much on any one plant since they wander further and eat different plants rather than consistently only one variety. Unless your pasture is depleted to nothing except high copper plants, I would not worry about too much copper. If you want your sheep to have copper, use a good sheep formulated grain. These are manufactured with a certain amount of copper since life cannot exist without some form of copper. There are minimal problems with copper levels in graze or browse, it is only when humans begin managing what goes into their diets that we are starting to see copper overdoses through feeding the wrong supplements.

I have White Dorpers. Recently I read that Dorpers have a higher tolerance to copper. I had bought loose minerals that required 100 lbs. of salt with which to be mixed before offering to the sheep. I can't find any loose livestock salt within 50 miles! Next time I travel out of the area I will check for loose salt at Tractor Supply or a livestock feed supply. In the meantime, I had a new 50 lb. mineral salt block in our Connex container. (I took all of them out of the horse pasture and substituted white salt block since the sheep run there too.) I went ahead and put out the red mineral block and the sheep immediately began licking and biting on it. That was last year and no one has keeled over yet. This year I put other red mineral salt blocks in each of the pens including the creep pen. They are doing fine. I do need to find some loose salt though since I think they would eat more salt if available in loose form.

While I check new feed that is not specifically for sheep for copper amounts before buying it, I no longer stress about copper levels.,
 
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