16 November 2022 – Copper supplementation is an important nutritional tool in swine and poultry animal husbandry. However, due to market developments triggered by stressors outside of the agricultural sector, alongside sustainability-driven legislation changes, the copper market is facing high prices and restrictions globally.
For those utilising the benefits of copper supplementation, changes can be made to the way they are applied to keep costs down in a difficult economic climate and adhere to incoming environmental legislation. Feedinfo sat down with Novus International’s Dr. Brad Lawrence, Swine Senior Technical Services Manager, and Dr. Bob Buresh, Poultry Executive Technical Services Manager, to gain more insight into this turbulent market and how feed producers and animal husbandry professionals around the world can implement strategies to weather the incoming storm.
[Feedinfo] To start, can you provide us with some insight as to how is copper supplementation beneficial in swine and poultry production?
[Brad Lawrence] Copper supplementation has been accepted for many decades as a means of improving pig and poultry performance. The improvements have largely been attributed to the role copper plays in altering the gut microflora. However, copper is also shown to positively impact structural integrity, prevent anemia, as well as support energy/protein metabolism, antioxidant defense, and immune function. Combined, these physiological benefits support the use of copper in protein production.
[Bob Buresh] Since the 1950s there have existed recommended minimum levels of dietary copper inclusion that are adequate in preventing nutritional deficiencies and meeting the physiological needs of poultry, whether they be broilers, turkeys, or laying hens. Today, most poultry are fed copper levels well above the minimum recommended levels. As Brad mentioned, this is done with the expectation that copper will further support performance and gut health.
[Feedinfo] What are the upcoming challenges for livestock producers where copper is concerned? Can you explain the developments in the market that may cause a headache for those using copper products in animal husbandry?
[Brad Lawrence] We know cost, supply and sustainability are always top of mind for an animal protein producer, but what we’re seeing in the news about copper is certainly cause for consideration. As of March 2022, copper reached a high of $4.74 USD per pound before declining to where it sits today, around $3.35 USD. This is a significant increase from the $1.00 USD per pound we saw in the year 2000. This significant change adds to the challenge of feeding quality feedstuffs while still seeing the desired return on investment.
[Bob Buresh] This isn’t the first time we’ve seen high copper prices. What has changed is how much the demand for copper has grown in recent years. Due to the increased popularity of electronic technologies like computers, smartphones, electric cars and electric appliances, as well as the push for solar and wind energy, copper is a hot commodity. A recent report from news organization Business Insider explained that copper supplies are dangerously low with inventories covering less than five days of global consumption “and could finish the year at 2.9 days”. This is especially worrying as copper inventories are typically measured in weeks, not days.
The last concern but one that is always top of mind is the focus on sustainability and the environmental impact of protein production. While our industry has long been working to make production less impactful to the environment, it takes quality raw feed and powerful feed additives to do that.
[Feedinfo] You mentioned sustainability. Mineral excretion is on the radar of regulatory bodies, as we’ve seen tightened restrictions on additives like zinc oxide. How could environmental concerns impact the use of copper products around the world?
[Brad Lawrence] Several countries have implemented limitations on copper supplementation levels or its duration of use in response to concerns about environmental impacts. For example, the European Union in 2018 limited copper supplementation in pigs to 170 ppm total copper in the complete feed to 12 weeks of age and 25 ppm total copper from then to market. Copper restrictions on a complete feed basis also exist in Canada. Will we see this in other countries? Perhaps. But price may drive a reduction in supplementation levels before regulators do.
[Bob Buresh] Most poultry producers in the U.S. have plans to evaluate the impact of production practices, including nutritional programs, on the environment. Copper excretion in the environment is a valid concern. Antibiotic-free/reduced programs and the increasingly vocal demands from end customers for less expensive but still nutritious meat means producers must supplement with additives that will support gut health and physical development. Where copper is concerned, mineral source matters.
[Feedinfo] With these concerns growing, what are the factors to consider when it comes to selecting copper-based feed additives? Why is it so important for livestock producers to think differently about copper supplementation?
[Bob Buresh] One of the efficiency goals of all poultry producers is “doing more with less,” and this applies to mineral nutrition. Traditional mineral sources (copper sulfate or other inorganic salts) once served well to meet the nutritional requirements of the animals but showed great variability in their bioavailability. This leads to supplementation well beyond the recommended levels with a significant portion of what is fed passing through the animal unabsorbed and ending up in the litter and the environment. Inorganic minerals are also shown to compromise the availability of other additives (calcium, phosphorus, zinc) in the diet.
Over the years, organic mineral sources with well-defined structures and optimal availability have been developed. In this group is Novus International’s MINTREX® bis-chelated trace minerals. These organic minerals chelated to methionine source HMTBa are less responsive to antagonists in the gut and have shown optimised absorption in the small intestine where the minerals can be immediately used or stored for future use. Better absorption also means less copper ends up in the environment. We have also seen that MINTREX® can be supplemented at a reduced rate without negatively impacting performance.
[Feedinfo] You mention Mintrex – can you share more about how products like this can support livestock producers through a possibly challenging copper market?
[Brad Lawrence] Since the inception of MINTREX® over 15 years ago, the focus has been to optimise animal protein production while minimising environmental impact. Over the years Novus has built a database of studies comparing MINTREX® to traditional levels of inorganic sources. In weaned pigs, the studies show supplementing copper as MINTREX® Cu results in greater performance outcomes when supplemented at the same rate as inorganic sources and similar performance outcomes even at reduced levels of supplementation. These results show MINTREX® Cu can be an effective tool in areas of the world where copper supplementation is restricted. In grow/finishing pigs, data shows feed conversion can be improved 4 to 6 points on a closeout basis when MINTREX® Cu is supplied at lower inclusion levels than inorganic sources. This is called our Reduce and Replace™ strategy, which has positive implications for improving economic return due to a better feed conversion ratio while also reducing copper excretion.
[Bob Buresh] We’ve seen similar benefits through research and commercial field trials in poultry fed MINTREX® Cu. Keeping in step with our customers’ production goals, our current focus at Novus is to provide poultry producers with a highly bioavailable copper source at levels approaching 25% of traditional sources while maintaining live performance goals, which significantly reduces copper excretion into the environment and is economically beneficial to the producer. This is achievable with MINTREX® Cu.
[Feedinfo] What would your final advice be to swine and poultry producers regarding use of copper in animal husbandry?
[Bob Buresh] We know there are many feed additive suppliers on the market making claims of improved performance, animal health, and reduced environmental impact. My challenge to producers is to critically review the research and commercial claims and to evaluate the scientific reputation of the supplier. Can the supplier support their performance claims with detailed, documented data? Internal and external research shows protein production and sustainability are optimised with MINTREX® Cu because the product is effective beyond its impact on gut microflora. Copper can affect calcium and phosphorus availability, gut development, and fibre digestion but only when it is highly available to the animal. We’ve seen that copper in the form of MINTREX® bis-chelated trace minerals is a more efficacious and impactful way to supplement copper while also optimising resource utilisation.
Published in association with Novus International