While every dwarf or pygmy goats needs a certain amount of copper in the diet, overdoing this essential mineral easily leads to toxicity. Because different species of farm animals require different levels of copper for optimum health, you must take care that your curious little caprine doesn't get into another livestock animal's feed. Commercial pig feed, for example, contains far too much copper for a goat.
If you feed a commercial goat feed, it should contain the correct level of copper, but you must be careful not to give your little guys too much or too little. Copper deficiencies also can cause issues. Your goat requires some copper for the microorganisms in his rumen, the first and largest section of his four-part stomach. It's also necessary for healthy hooves, skin and hair, as well as iron metabolism and hemoglobin production in the bloodstream. Lack of copper causes anemia, growth reduction, brittle bones and fertility problems. The exact amount of copper necessary for a goat depends on various factors, including metabolism and the amount of copper found in his grazing areas. It isn't strictly a matter of pygmy versus full-size goats. Have your soil tested for its mineral levels.
If your goat consumes too much copper, he'll show toxicity symptoms. These might be gradual, if he consumes excess amounts over a long time period, or they might appear swiftly, if he overeats too much copper at once. Symptoms include weight loss, dehydration and depression. Unfortunately, many goats ingesting excess copper over the long term appear just fine until their red blood cells start disintegrating rapidly, a condition known as a hemolytic crisis. Those symptoms include red urine, because of red blood cell destruction and jaundice, the yellowing of the mucous membranes. The goat might fall over and develop breathing troubles. He also might experience diarrhea. Whenever your goat starts teeth grinding, that's a sign of pain, so look him over carefully.
Toxic sources of copper might be in items around your farm that don't spring to mind as easily as livestock feed. These include horse or cattle salt blocks with trace minerals; equine, bovine, porcine or poultry supplements; pasture fertilized with either poultry or pig manure, and cattle disinfectant hoof baths. If you turn your goats out with horses or cows, purchase plain salt blocks with no added minerals. Don't feed goats commercial feeds or supplements manufactured for other species. If you pasture your goats with other species, separate them when feeding commercial feeds.
If you suspect your small goat has eaten too much of an item containing copper, call your vet at once, whether or not your animal appear ill. According to Pygmy Goat World, the standard treatment for copper intoxication is "daily drenches of 100 milligrams ammonium molybdate and 1 gram sodium sulfate in 20 milliliters of water." If your goat is able to eat, you would mix this in the feed rather than drench him. Drenching consists of placing the medication in a syringe without a needle, or a special drenching gun, and squeezing the contents down the throat. You must do this for a minimum of 30 days. Your vet might prescribe curprimine off-label. This human medication binds copper so your goat can eliminate it. Seriously ill goats also might require intravenous fluids to get toxins out of the body. You must identify the source of the copper toxicity and make necessary feeding changes. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
- Colorado State University Extension: Copper Poisoning in Small Ruminants
- Dairy Goat Journal: Copper's Role in Goat Health
- Tractor Supply Company: Goat Health Conditions and Copper Toxicity
- Pygmy Goat World: Copper Toxicity in Pygmy Goats
- National Pygmy Goat Association: Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.