The Importance of Copper in Beef Cattle Reproduction

By Barry Whitworth, DVM

According to Dr. Keith Bailey, the director of the Oklahoma Animal Disease and Diagnostic Laboratory (OADDL), copper deficiency has been a common finding in late term cattle abortions and stillbirths over the past two years. In a liver sample study from aborted fetuses in western Canada, magnesium, copper, and vitamin E were frequently identified as deficient in aborted fetuses.

In addition to reproductive inefficiencies, low copper levels are also associated with poor performance and poor immune response.

Copper is involved in many body functions such as hemoglobin formation, bone cell function, pigment production, hair, hoof and horn function and animal growth. Since a review of all the health problems associated with copper in beef cattle would be too long for this writing, a review of copper deficiency related to reproductive performance will be addressed.

Copper deficiency can be a primary deficiency or a secondary deficiency. An example of primary deficiency is when forages are low in copper.

In Oklahoma most legumes such as alfalfa and clovers have adequate amounts of copper. However, most grasses in Oklahoma are deficient in the mineral. Secondary copper deficiency is more common. This is the result of another mineral(s) interfering with the uptake of copper.

The most common minerals involved in this are iron, sulphur, and molybdenum. These elements will bind with copper which makes it unavailable to the body. Secondary copper deficiency may occur even if the diet has adequate amounts of copper.

Reproductive problems associated with copper deficiency in cattle include reduced fertility. This may present in many ways. Cattle may fail to conceive on their first breeding.

Learn more in the January issue of OKFR!