Monday, August 31, 2009

Another lamb! and copper and sheep

Okay, I admit, I was holding out on you yesterday. We actually have two new lambs! On Saturday, Majik gave birth to this beautiful little ewe, whose father is also a mystery -- and yet another reason to do DNA testing. With this little girl being so black, I'm wondering if Albus might be daddy. We've never butchered a ewe, and I don't want to wind up with a flock of unregistered sheep, so DNA testing seems like the obvious solution.

Now perhaps you'll forgive me for holding out on you yesterday when I tell you that I had a reason -- I want to talk about sheep and copper. You see, Majik looked absolutely terrible at the end of winter. I was worried that we might lose her. She was thinner than I've ever seen a sheep, and she was anemic. Her face was almost white. Her wool was half as long as it had been in past years. Deworming her with Cydectin didn't do much to improve her condition. Providing a protein tub from Sweetlix didn't help either. She is only seven, which isn't old enough to be having this much trouble maintaining good body condition and wool growth.

In goats, copper deficiency can cause a loss of color in the coat, but people in the U.S. are very worried about copper toxicity in sheep. When my goats were copper deficient, I did a lot of research on the topic and learned that in Australia and New Zealand, they've started using copper boluses in sheep. They've given them to ewes during pregnancy, and they've given them to lambs after weaning.

Copper boluses contain tiny bits of real copper -- copper oxide, which is a different form of copper than what is in feed mixes and minerals -- copper sulfate, which is much more readily absorbed. Researchers have given copper boluses to sheep for two reasons: copper deficiency and as a dewormer. It has worked well for both problems. As a dewormer, it only works for haemonchus cortortus, which is a stomach worm, because the tiny bits of copper sit in the animal's stomach for three or four weeks as they dissolve, creating an environment antagonistic to the worms. It doesn't work for intestinal worms. And it may come as a shock to a lot of shepherds that sheep could ever be copper deficient, but they have diagnosed this problem in New Zealand and Australia.

Looking at sheep minerals, I think we've gone overboard, since many of them contain molybdenum, which binds with copper, making it less available to the animal. So, in addition to not providing sheep with any supplemental copper, they're also giving them something to keep them from absorbing whatever tiny amount they get in their diet naturally.

Since Majik had all the signs of copper deficiency, I decided to give her a copper bolus, using the same dosage as I would for a goat her size. As you can see from her picture, she is much improved. Her face is almost completely black again, and her wool is growing normally. She's gained weight, and she just gave birth to a healthy ewe lamb. I'm glad she is a colored sheep, because the bleached hair on her face was what made me consider copper deficiency. If this had been one of my white sheep, I probably would not have considered copper deficiency as a possible culprit.

For more information on this topic, you can visit the Southern Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control.


therealbobthought said...

so goats and sheep eat copper? i never knew that, i bet thats where all my lost pennies have gone, them neighbors goats been eatin em up.

Deborah said...

LOL, Bob! No, usually I have to shove the boluses down their throats. They don't need THAT much copper. It's just a trace mineral, but when you have sulfur in your water like we do, it binds with the copper and makes it harder for the animal to absorb it, so they need more that they can get in their diet.

Claire said...

Interesting! The Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America (ISBONA) group that I belong to often has discussions of copper on our daily newsfeed. It is a known issue for Icelandics, who seem to need more copper than other breeds of sheep. I wonder if it is more widespread, even perhaps among the "primitive" breeds like Icelandics, Shetlands, Soays, etc. We also had a ewe who lost a tremendous amount of colour and weight, so we fed her supplemental horse sweet feed for a while, which has added copper. She is doing much better now and got all her colour back also. I have read about copper toxicity in sheep kept with goats who have mineral blocks that contain copper, but I really wonder if it is breed related.

Claire said...

Oh, I forgot to ask, where did you get your copper boluses?

Deborah said...

Thanks so much for sharing this Claire! Since Icelandics and Shetlands are historically related, this is probably less weird than I thought.

I get Copasure calf boluses from Jeffers Livestock, break them apart and then redistribute the particles into smaller capsules. I gave Majik the capsule that holds 2 g of copper, which is capsule size 0. I had read this in a couple places online, but I also checked it with my scale, and it's accurate. There is a UK company online that sells copper boluses sized for sheep, but I heard about that after I'd already bought a few hundred empty capsules, so will be making my own for a few years.

tonya fedders said...

Someone just told me last week that it was an "old timers remedy" to give sheep a ground up copper penny for worms. I had never heard of this as a wormer - but this guy swore it worked. He said it would make the sheep really sick, then they would get better. I probably won't be 'grinding' up pennies, but the need for copper is something that is worth looking into!

Also, your little 'bibbed' ram is just adorable!

Nancy K. said...

Oh, sweet Majik! Probably the most beautiful ewe lamb ever born in the Bluff Country. I keep forgetting where she IS! I'm so glad that she found a loving home with you, Deb.

I've read in a number of places about Shetlands suffering from copper deficiencies. When I had my Angora goats I would occasionally let the ewes nibble a little bit of the goat minerals ~ which, of course, contain copper. I no longer have goats so may just resort to giving an occasional treat of a little goat min/or sweet feed. The trick is to not go too far in the OTHER direction.

Mom L said...

Another sturdy baby! You have to be proud as well as amazed that she turned out so well after her Mom had such trouble last winter. What is it with the legs? Will they slim up like her Mom's as she grows, or will they always be thicker and stronger looking?

Nancy in Iowa

Deborah said...

tonya, I *think* today's pennies smight have some lead in them, which would, of course, be bad for sheep. Maybe that's why the guy told you they get sick first? I've never had an animal exhibit any negative symptoms after getting a copper bolus.

Nancy, I'm so glad that Majik's first shepherdess didn't realize what a gem she had! We love having her here! If I run out of sheep minerals, I do sometimes put some goat minerals in their feeder until I get more sheep minerals. The chance of copper sulfate overdosing them is more of a concern than copper oxide in boluses. The documented cases of copper toxicity in goats have been with copper sulfate.

Mom L, I am noticing that the Shetlands are very muscled with much bigger bones than my goats at birth, even though the sheep are only slightly heavier when they reach adulthood. It's amazing how quickly the lambs can run as fast as mom! Within a couple days, they have no trouble keeping up.


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