Copper (Cu)

Copper is another vital nutrient mineral, essential for the health, growth and reproduction of all higher plants and animals.

Staple foods such as rice, wheat, oats, spinach, carrots and citrus fruits are highly dependent on adequate soil levels of copper, as are grasses and the animals that graze on it. Lack of copper can cause crop failure in some parts of the world and significant yield losses here in Europe. Failure to detect copper deficiency leads to overuse of nitrogen in an attempt to obtain better yields. Ironically, excessive applications of nitrogen actually worsen a copper deficiency! In the UK it is the peaty, sandy, brash and chalk soils that are most likely to be copper deficient, but there are many localised pockets of land low in copper and a proper soil analysis is a must.
Copper deficiency in livestock is widespread. Symptoms are more obvious in cattle than sheep. A reddish tinge in black and white cattle, anaemia, poor calf and lamb weight gain, unthrifty appearance, swayback in sheep and diarrhoea are some of the indications, though some of these symptoms could have other causes.
Excessive molybdenum in grass and forage binds with copper in ruminants inducing a deficiency. Copper toxicity can be caused by excess dietary copper supplement, boluses and injections, but not from natural copper in forage.

In the UK there is very little copper deficiency in the human population due to our water supply coming through copper pipes.

Copper Deficiency Symptoms in Plants

Reduced plant growth and development (photosynthesis)
Reduction in plant matter production
Reduced crop yields
Increased susceptibility to disease (particularly fungal attack)
Reduction in fixation of atmospheric Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide.

Copper and Selenium Deficiencies in Livestock

Ruminants can only utilise Copper correctly in the presence of Selenium, so both must be considered together
Poor fertility, heat detection and conception rates
Low milk protein and butter fats
Poor thrift and slow growth rates
Scouring in calves and swayback in sheep
Rough, gingery coats in cattle
Slow shedding of Winter Coat
Swayback in sheep
Pneumonia in calves and lambs


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