We often talk about copper deficiency in horses, and specifically its role in coat color. Copper is part of an enzyme called tyrosinase which is essential for the production of melanin. Melanin is what gives the skin, hair and eyes their color.
So it makes sense that copper deficiency would cause a change in coat color! If an animal doesn’t have enough copper, they don’t make enough melanin and if they don’t have enough melanin they can’t color their coat.
Hereford cattle can make good ‘copper deficiency canaries’… their coat color fades quite quickly when they become copper deficient. So they can indicate areas around the country that are low in copper (which is almost everywhere) provided they are not being supplemented. Where Herefords should normally be a rich liver red color, copper deficient Herefords become a burnt orange color.
The ones shown in the photo here have been in drought conditions for well over a year and they are likely deficient in almost everything, but certainly the copper deficiency is showing in their coats!
Copper deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies seen in equine diets. And unfortunately copper deficiency affects many things including hoof and joint health in all horses, increased susceptibility to uterine artery rupture in foaling mares and higher incidence of OCD joint lesions in young horses. It’s easy to check your horse’s copper intake using FeedXL and get those diets balanced.
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