Trace Elements – Copper 

Many livestock owners and just people in general can be skeptical about the role trace elements play in health. Trace elements are not only important for humans but for livestock as well. They are called trace elements for good reason. The human body is made up of the following:


  • Oxygen – 64%
  • Carbon – 20%
  • Hydrogen – 10%
  • Nitrogen – 4%
  • Calcium – 2%
  • Phosphorous – 1%

Trace Elements

  • Potassium – .24%
  • Sulfur – .20%
  • Chlorine – .10%
  • Sodium – .10%
  • Magnesium – .05%
  • Iron – .01 %
  • Copper – .0004%
  • Manganese – .0002%
  • Zinc – .00015%

As you can see, the trace elements might seem insignificant. For the most part, in our Western society we have very few issues with human mineral and trace element deficiencies. However, our livestock need to live off of whatever pastures we give them access to. Most pastures are deficient in some or many trace elements. However, today I’d like to talk about the trace element Copper (CU).

Copper makes up only .0004% of the human body. It might make up a more a less in a cow, but for the purposes of this discussion let’s keep the ratios the same. Copper is surprisingly essential to many of the biological functions in a cow’s body. It acts as a catalyst for various chemical reactions. Many enzymes could simply not be created if there is no copper present. Some of these enzymes might seem insignificant. However there are many deadly diseasses associated with copper deficiencies. If you are an Australian reading this you have probably heard of Falling Disease that occurs in cattle. The cattle will suddenly fall over and die of heart failure. Autopsy revels that the muscles surrounding the heart have lesions and fibrosis. Basically the heart muscle is unable to do its job.

Another illness associated with copper deficiency is called sway-back. This is most commonly found in lambs or calves. The lambs are born to parents that seem to be healthy, but are deficient in copper. Since copper is essential to the formation and protection of the nervous system a deficiency results in a malfunction. This causes the animals to stagger and sway, unable to keep their balance. Autopsy revels that a copper deficiency results in a breakdown the fatty myelin sheath that protects the nervous system. When the myelin sheath is no longer protecting the nervous system electrical pulses can no longer be sent efficiently throughout the body resulting in this condition or in severe cases paralysis.

Of course these are severe examples of element deficiencies. It should also be noted that an excess of a certain mineral is worse than a deficiency. The relationship between all of these elements is extremely complex and even today we are just beginning to understand their roles when combined with other minerals/elements.

All facts and figures in this post came from the book The Biology of The Trace Elements

Got minerals? What has been your experience with mineral deficiencies and excess?

Chris Stelzer

Chris Stelzer is a published Author, founder of Agricultural Insights and creator of many resources that help family farmers and ranchers grow their businesses. His flagship courses are the Grazing Mastery Program and The Farm Marketing Mastery Program. 

Chris Stelzer

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