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Non-infectious Disorders in Cattle

Copper Deficiency
  • Copper Deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies encountered by ranchers in the Central Coast region.It is also one of the least recognized and most economically devastating disorders in our area.The clinical signs of copper disease can range from sub-clinical (unapparent signs) to sudden death.
  • Copper is used by the body for almost all important functions; from reproduction to hair and hoof growth and more.
  • Primary Copper Deficiency-the most common cause of copper deficiency on the central coast is a very low level of copper in the diet due to copper deficiency in the soil.
  • Secondary Copper Deficiency-Interference with copper absorption.
    • High levels of molybdenum in the soil or water.
    • High levels of sulfur in the soil, water or feed (yellow salt blocks, rotten egg smelling water etc.)

Common Symptoms

  • Infertility (poor pregnancy rates
  • Unthrifty
  • Poor weight gains
  • Diarrhea
  • Light Haircoat (angus cattle tend to have a brown, "burnt" haircoat and herefords turn yellow)
  • Weakness in calves
  • Anemia
  • Lowered resistance to disease and decreased vaccine efficacy.
  • Sudden Death

Dietary Requirements for Copper
  • Cattle should receive approximately 4-10 parts per million (ppm) of copper from pasture, range or hay.
  • The dietary requirement for cattle may be drastically more in cases where there is excessive molybdenum (Cu:Mo <2:1) or sulfates in the diet.
  • Dietary requirements may also be higher in areas with excessive cadmium, zinc or calcium (limestone).

Determining Copper Status

  • While it is possible to test soil, feed and water for the various minerals involved in the disorder, it may be more practical to test the cattle to determine their copper status.
  • Blood testing for copper is an inexpensive method of screening a herd for advanced deficiency situations.
  • Liver samples are more indicative of the overall copper (and many other minerals) status of an animal as the liver is the reservoir for copper and deficiencies may not be apparent in the serum until the liver supply is nearly exhausted.Liver copper samples may be indicated for monitoring the effectiveness of copper supplementation


  • Copper deficiency can be treated and prevented in a number of ways:
    • Injectable copper glycinate
      • This product may provide enough copper for several months in moderate copper deficient areas.
      • Is available through your veterinarian.
  • Salt-mineral mixes
    • Often contain 0.2-0.5% copper
    • May not be sufficient in severely deficient areas
  • Molasses blocks
    • Similar to salt-mineral mixes
  • Copper Boluses
    • Given orally via a balling gun
    • Generally gives effective doses of copper slowly over 6-12 months.
    • Unfortunately they are somewhat difficult to administer!
    • Available through your veterinarian


  • A little/adequate copper is good, but too much copper can be extremely toxic or deadly (especially to sheep and goats!).
  • Sheep can die from copper toxicities at extremely low levels (even in normally formulated feeds for other species)

Retained Placentas in Cattle


The placenta or afterbirth is the name for the membranes that surround the calf and provide nutrition during gestation before it is born. The membranes may look like they have “buttons”, these are the cotyledons that connect to the uterus and provide blood supply to the placenta. Normally the placenta detaches from the uterus within minutes and up to 12 hours of birth. It is considered a retained placenta (RP) if it has not been expelled within 24 hours. One of the amazing differences between cattle and horses is that a RP of 3 or more hours in a horse is considered an emergency!


A retained placenta provides a means of entry of organic and inorganic material (manure, dirt, air) that contain a significant load of bacteria. These bacteria may colonize the uterus and set up an infection and lead to the cow becoming ill or even die. The infection in the uterus may even cause significant inflammation and damage to the uterus leading to a significant delay before she can get bred again.


There are a number of common causes of retained placentas:

  • Difficult birth (calf is too big or positioned incorrectly
  • Cesarean Section
  • Twins
  • Dead and gas filled fetuses
  • Energy or protein deficiencies
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Selenium deficiency
  • Iodine deficiency
  • Vitamin E deficiency
  • Obesity
  • Stress (Weather, transportation, handling or poor feed conditions)
  • Heritable
  • Infectious Diseases or Toxins
    • Leptosporosis
    • IBR or BVD viruses
    • Foothill Abortion
    • Brucellosis
    • Pine Needle Abortion

Cows that have an RP for 24-48 hours and have a fever of over 103 degrees should receive treatment. A cow that is depressed or dehydrated should receive treatment from a veterinarian. Proactive treatment is important to prevent the condition from deteriorating in a short period of time. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MANUALLY REMOVE THE PLACENTA! This may cause more damage to the uterus and can be life threatening!


There are many causes of retained placentas, so there is no simple answer, but if you are having more that 1% of your herd developing an RP:

  • Don’t allow cattle to become excessively fat or thin before calving
  • Reduce stress
  • Prevent exposure to pine needles and juniper trees
  • Manage trace mineral and vitamin status
  • Prevent Foothill Abortion
  • Vaccinate for viral and bacterial causes of abortion.


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