“Grazing cattle are heading towards a potentially costly time this autumn with the risk of Hypomagnesaemia (Grass Staggers) more prevalent than ever” warns James Brinicombe, R&D Director at the Denis Brinicombe Group.
With very wet weather in many parts of the country, an increase in temperature now will see ideal growing conditions leading to rapid grass growth which will reduce the uptake of essential nutrients especially magnesium. This imbalance which cannot be avoided is what creates the danger from late September through to the end of October although it is not unheard of in out-wintered stock.
Cattle cannot store an easily available source of magnesium, so therefore at high risk periods supplementary magnesium must be supplied on a daily basis to meet any sudden increases in demand especially at times of stress to help to reduce the occurrence, Mr Brinicombe advises.
The incidence of staggers is more common in grazing, lactating cows, particularly mature animals. Milk synthesis results in a massive demand for magnesium and when this exceeds the dietary intake, clinical hypomagnesaemia occurs. An important note to consider is that for every clinical case that is seen, many more may be affected sub clinically. Exposure to stress factors such as cold, wet weather or handling can cause sub-clinically affected animals to start to show clinical signs of a deficiency. Any individual showing any signs should be a warning that magnesium levels are low in the entire herd.
The application of fertiliser, perhaps after a late cut for silage, not only encourages faster growth but high levels of potassium also have an effect of reducing the uptake of magnesium by the grass. High levels of nitrogen and potassium in the diet can also interfere with the absorption of magnesium within the animals’ digestive system.
In many cases the first signs a stockman may see will be a sudden death as staggers has a rapid onset and symptoms may not be apparent until it is too late, the ground surrounding the animal will show signs of struggling if this is the case. Animals showing symptoms may exhibit nervousness and apprehension, mild tremors, loss of appetite and a stiff and staggering gait. Recumbency will then follow with convulsions and a paddling of her legs, at this stage the prognosis for recovery is poor even with veterinary intervention, and death will ensue.
This condition loses the cattle industry millions of pounds every year. This is a surprisingly high figure considering that prevention of a deficiency is relatively simple and highly cost effective.
“Neglecting to provide a daily magnesium supply to cows at high risk periods will prove expensive, with the loss of a suckler cow averaging in excess of £1000. As magnesium is a very easy product to make available through many free access forms, the onset of grass staggers is a preventable disease” concludes Mr Brinicombe.
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