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Consider the benefits of magnesium

Royce Towns, TFC Nutritionist 1/27/2020

The lush green color of new growth in spring pastures will soon be making an appearance in the countryside. Along with this harbinger of spring comes the risk of grass tetany, also referred to as hypomagnesemia or grass staggers. Grass tetany is a complex metabolic disorder of cattle associated with a deficiency of magnesium in the blood and spinal fluid. While this potentially deadly disorder can occur at any time of the year, it most often occurs in early spring when periods of warmer weather cause rapid growth of cool-season grasses. Cool soil temperatures impair the plants’ ability to absorb magnesium, resulting in lush, green forage lacking in this vital mineral. Cattle eagerly consume this new growth, increasing their potential for magnesium deficiency. This disorder can be deadly and claims a number of cows each year.

Providing supplemental magnesium is one of the most effective means of preventing grass tetany. For best results, we recommend providing cattle with supplemental magnesium just prior to, and during, grazing of high-risk forages. Magnesium oxide is an efficient source of magnesium, but by itself is not palatable to cattle and therefore is typically included as an ingredient in “hi-mag” mineral supplements, blocks, or tubs. While any of these products can be effective in preventing grass tetany, supplementation with a complete vitamin/mineral product can offer numerous additional benefits.

Grass tetany season tends to correspond with critical periods in the production cycle of the beef female. Fall calving cows will usually be in heavy lactation during most of grass tetany season, while spring calving cows will often be in the last weeks of gestation and early lactation. Additionally, grass tetany season immediately precedes breeding season for many spring calving herds. These stages of production, and the physiological stresses they place on the animal, validate the need for enhanced vitamin and mineral nutrition in addition to supplemental magnesium.

Forages in the Southeast can be deficient in several essential minerals regardless of season. Phosphorus, copper, zinc, and selenium all play vital roles in growth and reproduction of beef cattle. Also, recent research in the field of fetal programming suggests that calves born to mothers that receive adequate trace mineral supplementation will be more productive than those born to un-supplemented females. Since the brain and other vital organs are in critical stages of development during early gestation, nutrient deficits can limit the productivity of the offspring their entire lives. As a result, the benefits of vitamin-mineral supplementation can reach far beyond the cow consuming the mineral supplement.

So, as you guard against grass tetany this spring, consider the benefits of providing more than just magnesium — enhanced reproduction, healthier calves, and faster growth rates await. Visit with the beef cattle specialists at your Co-op to determine which hi-mag mineral supplement is right for your operation.

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