Prevent staggers and support spring performance

Many producers have been counting down the days to spring grazing, with improving soil conditions, rapid grass growth and better weather all signalling the start of the grazing season. But while turning cows out to grass brings many management and nutrition benefits, early spring grazing can be the source of a significant health challenge in dairy cows.

Dairy Nutrition

During the spring period grass is typically lusher and greener, but low in magnesium and higher in potassium. Lactating cows grazing this grass run the risk of developing hypomagnesaemia, which is commonly known as ‘staggers’.

Staggers is a serious metabolic disorder caused by low magnesium levels in the blood and can, in severe cases, result in mortality. Cows are unable to store magnesium, so it’s vital daily magnesium requirements are met to avoid staggers and impaired herd health and performance.

The lack of magnesium reserves in the cow’s skeletal structure makes staggers an extremely difficult condition for her to control herself.

Dairy cows grazing spring

Magnesium intakes

The low mineral content of early spring season grass is the most common cause of staggers, but it can be triggered or exacerbated by underfeeding, a low magnesium content in a herd’s overall diet, and stress. Cases of staggers typically occur on cold, wet days when feed intakes may be suppressed.

A sudden drop in milk yield can be an early warning sign of hypomagnesaemia, but visual indicators include restlessness, twitching muscles, convulsions, loss of appetite, and paralysis. If one cow is displaying symptoms, producers need to be hyper-vigilant across the whole herd. While only one cow may be showing signs of hypomagnesaemia initially, the likelihood is that low magnesium levels will be impacting others in the herd.

To avoid staggers cows should be transitioned slowly onto spring grazing and given free access to high-magnesium minerals, or supplemented with feed with added minerals.

ForFarmers has a range of magnesium products available, including Minline Grazer Mineral. This contains 20% magnesium and is formulated to support grazing systems.

Producers should also ensure that there are adequate levels of sodium in the herd’s ration. The absorption of magnesium into the cow’s blood stream relies on sodium so ground rock salt, PDV salt, or lump rock salt must be fed alongside any magnesium supplement.

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