Improving the health and performance of GB dairy cows through better copper nutrition

Rationale and aims

The findings of the previous Research Partnership project on minerals (link) has revealed that most winter fed dairy cows in GB are being grossly over-supplemented with minerals. Copper (Cu) is of particular interest because it is the most widely reported mineral deficiency, but when over supplied it can lead to toxicity.

One reason for over supplementation may be due to the poorly understood effects of antagonists on the absorption and metabolism of Cu and the possible effect of the forage base, as reported by previous AHDB-funded research (link): the forage base may impact Cu metabolism through alterations in ruminal pH. A second reason for the continued over-feeding of Cu is the perception that high dietary levels do not have a negative effect on dairy cow health or performance, unless a farm experiences mortality. However, apart from anecdotal experience from practicing vets, information on the impact of feeding high Cu feeding rates on subsequent health and performance of dairy cows is scarce: also, over-supplementation of Cu, especially in early life, may have long term effects.


The project aims to: 

a)     Investigate reasons for differences between forages in Cu metabolism and performance

b)     Determine the effect of early life mineral supplementation on Cu status and subsequent performance, fertility and immune status of replacement heifers

c)     Determine the effect of lifetime supplementation level of Cu on performance, health and fertility during the first lactation

Expected outcomes

  • Increased knowledge on the influence of rumen pH and basal forage on Cu metabolism and performance
  • Evidence of the effect of long-term feeding of high Cu levels on Cu status, growth performance, immune function and conception rates during rearing
  • Practical advice on the effect of long-term feeding of high Cu levels on Cu status, lactation performance, immune function and fertility during first lactation.

Start Date             
October 2016

Completion Date
October 2019

Lead Investigator
Harper Adams University


AHDB Dairy

For further information please contact: or call 024 7647 8632


*This project is part of the Research Partnership II between AHDB Dairy and the University of Nottingham (Lead Contractor). Other subcontracted investigators and delivery partners within the Research Partnership are: Harper Adams University, SRUC, RVC.