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Copper is secret to foot problems

by Pat Coleby

Foot problems are most commonly confined to the fungal variety, which is what this article will deal with. Copper is needed by all stock, dark coloured animals generally have a higher requirement. The laminitis scenario is another subject. One of the chief components of the skin is keratin, this preserves the skins integrity to a degree and ensures that pathogenic organisms do not gain entry. If farmers took the time occasionally to examine the feet of their cloven hoofed stock they might see a thin red line running down between the toes. That is the first sign that the keratin has broken down, it is then only a matter of time before a footscald and/or footrot take over, unless the goat’s immune system is in top order and is able to repair the damage and repulse the invader. The health of the keratin depends on copper and I consider, although it is not in the literature that I can see, sulphur as well. In Australia where we have some pretty rugged soils, so poor that nothing can be fully healthy on them without mineral supplements. Copper is often largely unobtainable- this can be due to a natural shortfall (unusual) OR a very low pH which goes with most sour soils and means that all the other trace minerals will probably also be unobtainable; actually a very high pH (8.0 and above) can have a similar effect. Our low pHs are from 3.0 upwards. It could also occur in other countries but that kind of land is rarely expected to support livestock. In Australia we are rather short of good land and have to repair and make do with what we have. The most frequent cause of copper inhibition is the use of chemical fertilisers. They suppress copper 100% according to a researcher I spoke to some years ago, and certainly foot problems and "supering" appear to go hand in hand.

Looking through the last few issues of The Goat Farmer (Fibre News) I see a number of copper deficiency conditions causing trouble- ‘dermo’ as it is known here (dermatitis), and Orfe or scabby mouth.

All fungal conditions, in whatever animal, come back to a lack of copper in my experience- which goes back a bit now! But giving copper on its own is not ideal, minerals need to be in balance and work far better that way. All minerals are toxic in excess, even calcium. Goats have a high copper tolerance and requirement with sheep (except merinos) possibly the lowest. A farmer in Tasmania, with 500 merinos and 500 crossbred sheep in the same paddock, had the merinos totally crippled with footrot and the crossbreds were just fine.

I cannot cover the illnesses that take over when copper is low in this article, they range from Johnes to CAE, to worm infestations. I would also hazard a guess that if the footrot organism was identifiable in the soil there would not be a paddock without it. In Oz footrot is notifiable, and can mean animals being shot so, needless to say people often keep quiet.

Topical applications of copper are band-aid, but still fairly effective while the dietary copper is taking over. A tablespoon of copper sulphate, a tablespoon of vinegar (to break the alkalinity of the copper) dissolved in about one litre of water is very effective. Copper sulphate only cleans out dead tissue, and when applied neat to footrot lesions will leave clean flesh healthy and untouched. The wash I used many years ago after a goat (all black) contracted scabby mouth at a milk test. The scabs dried up and dropped off in a few hours.

To supplement goats with copper, if they are not having it already, is relatively simple for animals on daily hand-feeding. But the majority of fibre and meat goats reared on range conditions will take the following lick that contains all the necessities. it is made up as follows and must be kept DRY:

* In parts of USA where magnesium in the soil is very high, half in half calcium carbonate and dolomite may be used, the Ozarks and Florida can both use that lick straight. Dolomite is available in the UK (I was over there in August and checked it out). Dolomite is made from a rock containing calcium and magnesium (originally Carrera marble), in 60/40 ratio respectively but variable according to the site of the deposit. This mix can be added to the feed in small quantities as well- about a heaped teaspoon per beast daily or as recommended in Natural Goat Care for those that have the book. Refs: The Earth Heals Everything. The Story of Biochemistry, Justine Glass. Peter Owen Ltd, London 1968.