Sep 28, 2021 9:54:40 AM / Brooke Loeffler / copper deficiency, minerals for bison

Should You Worry About Bison and Copper?

Mineral imbalances and deficiencies can be fairly common among pastured bison herds. Because these imbalances can be difficult to detect in living bison, the best treatment is prevention. Here we will specifically learn more about copper, its importance, how to balance copper levels, and recognize imbalances in your herd.

Why Is Copper Important?

The Saskatchewan Department of Agriculture classifies copper as an essential micronutrient for bison. Micronutrients are just as important as macronutrients; they are simply required in smaller amounts. Copper is responsible for enzyme activity in many critical processes within your bison herd:

why do bison need copper

  • Growth: bone and tissue development (cartilage, ligaments, tendons, etc.) 
  • Cardiovascular health: blood vessel wall strength, hemoglobin formation, iron absorption and transportation in the blood
  • Reproductive health: improves semen quality in bulls and conception rates in cows
  • Immune health: helps important immune cells function, protects cells from oxidative stress
  • Metabolic health: governs metabolic processes
  • Digestive health: proper nutrient absorption in the intestinal tract, strengthens digestive lining that protects against toxin absorption
  • Coat health: hair development and pigmentation (especially critical for cold climates)
  • Click here to learn more about these copper functions from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Importance of Mineral Balance

Minerals interact with each other in different ways inside the body. Some minerals amplify the effects of others, while some inhibit other minerals. 4 different minerals can bind to copper molecules or restrict their ability to function:

  • Molybdenum
  • Sulfur
  • Iron
  • Zinc

All of these minerals are essential for bison, so it is harmful to try and eliminate them from their diet. However, if these minerals are ingested in higher quantities, they will create deficiencies in your herd.

There are 2 types of copper deficiencies:

  • Primary: bison are not ingesting enough copper
  • Secondary: bison are ingesting enough copper, but also ingesting too much of the 4 minerals mentioned above

Soil and forage testing multiple areas in your pastures can help you identify higher levels of these 4 minerals. A bison health report from Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, warns that “peat and swampy land tend to have high levels of molybdenum and can cause copper deficiency” so watch for those areas as well. 

Signs of Copper Deficiency

Because copper is involved in enzyme activity all over the body, copper deficiency symptoms vary a lot. For example, if copper supported digestive enzymes are the first to suffer, bison will show digestive symptoms. The symptoms will change depending on which system’s enzymes are failing. According to the veterinary report cited above, the following symptoms can point to copper deficiency:

  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea
  • Nervous system disorders (in calves)
  • Poor growth rate
  • Poor body condition
  • Hair and coat changes (pale, scruffy, discoloration, weak fibers)
  • Failure to reproduce, and more

As mentioned earlier, it can be difficult to spot, diagnose, and treat copper deficiencies before an animal passes away. Blood tests cannot reliably reveal copper deficiencies and living liver biopsies are not common practice for bison (as they are for cattle). For these reasons, prevention is the best medicine.

How Much Copper Do Bison Need?

Some operations become so fearful of toxicity that copper deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in ruminant herds. The Canadian Bison Association states that the “the recommended concentration is 10mg Cu/kg diet” but that number can be increased to over 15 mg Cu/kg if bison intake higher levels of molybdenum, sulfur, iron, and zinc. While blood tests do not always show copper deficiencies, they can show higher levels of these other 4 minerals and help your vet recommend the appropriate copper intake for your herd. 

Redmond Bison Minerals

Harvested from an ancient deep sea deposit in central Utah, Redmond Minerals can provide your herd with the expansive mineral profile they are missing from the open range. Our bison minerals contain over 60 naturally occurring minerals and extra fortifications tailored to bison health. Why mess with injections or boluses, when you can simply offer free choice minerals that bison actually love to eat? Our bison minerals contain about 10% of your bison’s daily copper requirements so they are well within the healthy range for your herd.

Bison Minerals-02

Give Redmond a call today and see how we have helped bison herds all over North America simplify their mineral program with our delicious trace mineral supplements.