animal & human wellness,  goats & sheep,  nutrition

Copper revisited, and a bit more about chelates and compounds for you science folks

Copper revisited, and a bit more about chelates and compounds for you science folks
by Carrie Eastman

In order to talk about supplementing goats with copper, let’s first understand what copper is and then how the goat’s body uses and excretes copper.  Finally, let’s talk about copper supplements.

Copper is a metal element, important for many functions in the body.

Copper can exist in several forms.
Elemental copper Cu is copper all by itself and very reactive
Copper compounds are copper bonded to other elements, such as copper sulfate or copper oxide.
Copper can also bond to protein, making copper proteinate.
Finally, copper can form a true chelate with amino acids.  A true chelate is defined by low molecular weight, one bond ionic and one covalent, and the electrical charge neutralized.  You can learn more about the science of chelation at

The next important point to realize is that the body has the ability to chelate minerals that are ingested.  Chelation happens in the liver.   This process takes time and energy and amino acid resources, and is not always completed for every elemental metal that makes it into the system.

So, having established some of the basics, let’s circle back to how copper gets into a goat.
First the goat eats something containing copper.  This would include copper boluses.

  • If the goat ate elemental copper Cu, which is very reactive and unlikely to exist without being bonded, then the elemental copper will either react with ingredients in the gut, preventing absorption, or would be absorbed .
  • If the goat ate a copper compound (for example copper oxide Cu2O) or copper proteinate, the copper is split away from whatever it is bonded to in the gut during digestion.  This splitting leaves behind elemental copper to react or be absorbed.  (Cu2O is split into Cu and oxygen)
  • If the goat ate amino acid chelated copper, the copper is not highly reactive and does not have to be split apart.  The copper can be easily absorbed.

*Now remember, elemental copper Cu is very reactive.  It is just as likely to react with ingredients in the gut as it is to absorb.  The only copper stable enough to resist reacting with other items in the gut and be absorbed is amino acid chelated copper.

Absorption takes place place through the mucosa that lines the digestive tract, into the blood stream or into the lymph.

The lymph and blood carry the minerals and nutrients to the liver.

The liver regulates copper levels in the bloodstream, as well as stores copper reserves for times when copper supply is low.  If the liver has more copper than is needed, the extra copper is excreted in the bile and passes out of the body in the feces.  The liver also bonds the elemental copper to proteins, mainly ceruloplasmin, and also albumin and some other proteins.  Copper MUST be bonded to a protein by the liver to be used by the body after it is absorbed from the digestive tract.

Remember, elemental copper that isn’t bonded is very reactive.  Copper that isn’t bonded to a protein floats free in the bloodstream, and because it has a positive charge and is reactive, it causes oxidative stress (think internal rust) or it looks for something to bond with and then deposits in unintended locations, especially the brain and reproductive organs.  Bonding elemental copper to ceruloplasmin takes energy, the correct supply of amino acids, and depends on the reactive elemental making it to the liver without reacting with something it meets along the way.  Not all elemental copper will make it to the liver to be bonded to ceruloplasmin.

All copper that makes it into the gut and is absorbed will either be absorbed as an amino acid chelate, highly stable and ready to use, or will be absorbed as a very reactive elemental copper  Cu molecule.

So the form of the copper ingested determines whether or not the copper can be absorbed and how easily it is absorbed.

The health of the liver then determines whether the absorbed copper is used for health, or creates toxic issues in the body.

In nature, goats eat copper in a variety of compounds and chelates and generally do just fine.  So why do goats get into trouble with copper toxicity?  Because goats in nature are not being fed large quantites of copper compounds as happens with domestic goats being fed feeds and supplements containing these compounds.

Copper supplementation for goats is still a topic of much debate and discussion, and there has been less research than on the copper needs of sheep, cattle and horses.  In Europe, copper needs for dairy goats have been established.

Here are some key points I have found out about copper.  I am not listing all the various citations after each point.  You can google the topics and find citations to back up any of these statements, unless otherwise indicated:

  • The form of copper is critical.  Copper oxides are very hard to absorb and use.  Copper sulfates are more absorbable.  Copper proteinate is even more absorbable.  Copper amino acid chelate is the most absorbable.  Amino acid chelated copper also catalyzes the uptake of the more unabsorbable forms.  Amino acid chelated copper is the only form of copper that does not have to be broken apart in the gut into elemental copper Cu.
  • Other minerals can inhibit or enable copper uptake.  What you feed the copper with is just as important as the copper itself, and this includes your water, pasture, hay and grain.
  • Iron is a copper inhibitor.  If you live in an area of high iron soil, you are more likely to need additional copper.
  • Zinc is also closely tied to copper, and to iron.  As is sulfur.  All minerals are connected.  Focusing on just one will drive you crazy, and leave your goats with too much or too little of something.
  • Goats need more copper than sheep.  Feeding a supplement designed for sheep will lead to copper deficiency and health issues.
  • Goats likely need as much copper as cattle, possibly more.
  • Copper has the potential to accumulate in the liver, and if the animal is stressed, release suddenly causing a severe health crisis.

Some thoughts on the research establishing copper requirements in goats:

  • The research should consider the form the copper is in, as some forms are more likely to accumulate rather than flush from the body.
  • Mineral interactions are so complex, can one mineral truly be isolated in a study?

Here are several links I found:

So, all of this being said, what I have chosen to do at Barakah for our goats is based on all of the information above, plus anecdotal information from various goat keepers, combined with muscle testing to tailor the nutrition to my herd and environment.

If you would like to learn to muscle test, please look at our online classes coming in early 2019.

You can find the Dynamite products at 

Copyright ©2016 Carrie Eastman.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration or American Veterinary Medical Association, and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your veterinarian about any changes to your animal’s health program.

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