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With yet more rain, we're revisiting the advice from Mihail on grass staggers

Updated: Jun 14

As lush green pastures emerge with the onset of spring, cattle are often exposed to a hidden danger- hypomagnesemia, commonly known as grass tetany or staggers. This condition poses a significant risk to cattle health and productivity, making it crucial for farmers to understand its causes, symptoms, and prevention strategies.

Hypomagnesemia is a metabolic disorder characterized by low levels of magnesium in the blood. Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in various physiological processes, including muscle function and nerve transmission. Inadequate magnesium intake or absorption can lead to a deficiency, resulting in neurological symptoms known as tetany. There is little to no storage of magnesium in the body, so daily intakes must match daily requirements in order to avoid a deficiency.

Several factors contribute to the development of hypomagnesemia in cattle, with lush spring grass being a primary culprit. Rapidly growing, lush pastures often contain high levels of potassium and nitrogen, which can interfere with magnesium absorption and also fast-growing grass is low in magnesium as well as being low in fibre, so it passes quickly through the gut, reducing the time for the absorption of nutrients and increasing the risk for animals to develop grass staggers. Additionally, low magnesium levels in the soil or inadequate dietary magnesium intake can further exacerbate the risk.

The onset of hypomagnesemia can be sudden and severe, with affected cattle exhibiting symptoms such as

  • Muscle tremors or twitching

  • Staggering gait or lack of coordination

  • Head pressing or circling

  • Agitation or nervousness

  • Sudden death (in severe cases)

Early detection of symptoms is crucial for prompt intervention, as untreated hypomagnesemia can quickly escalate and lead to significant health complications or death. Preventing hypomagnesemia in cattle requires proactive management practices, especially during periods of lush grass growth. Key prevention strategies include

  1. Supplemental Feeding: Providing cattle with access to magnesium supplements, either through mineral blocks, loose minerals, in-water magnesium flakes or feed additives, can help ensure adequate magnesium intake, especially when grazing on lush pastures.

  2. Forage Testing: Regularly testing forage samples can help farmers identify mineral imbalances and adjust feeding practices accordingly. Ensuring a balanced mineral profile in the diet is essential for preventing deficiencies

  3. Grazing Management: Implementing rotational grazing practices and limiting access to high-risk pastures during periods of rapid grass growth can help reduce the risk of hypomagnesemia. Grazing cattle on mature grass or supplementing with hay can also mitigate the risk of magnesium deficiency.

  4. Water Quality: Ensuring access to clean, fresh water is essential for maintaining hydration and supporting proper mineral absorption. Water sources with high levels of sulphate or other minerals that interfere with magnesium absorption should be avoided.

  5. Veterinary Monitoring: Regular veterinary health checks can help identify and address potential risk factors for hypomagnesemia. Veterinarians can provide valuable guidance on preventive measures and treatment options tailored to specific herd management practices. Sudden death (in severe cases)

As we all eagerly welcome the arrival of spring and embrace the warmth of the sun, it’s crucial to remain vigilant against the threat of hypomagnesemia. By understanding the risk factors, recognizing the symptoms, and implementing proactive prevention strategies, farmers can safeguard the health and well-being of their cattle and ensure optimal productivity throughout the grazing season. With careful management and attention to detail, the risk of grass tetany can be minimized, allowing cattle to thrive on the lush pastures of spring.

SFV NEWS May 2024
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