What is in this article?:
- Research by a veterinary pathologist indicates salt is a big factor in preventing and treating grass tetany.
- Without adequate sodium in the blood, the body grabs onto the most available cation, which would be magnesium, followed by calcium.
- When the cow consumes frost-damaged forage and the spike of nitrate occurs, her body accesses magnesium in the blood to eliminate the nitrate. This depletes the body and the cow goes down.
Sidebar: Salt isn't foolproof
Thomas Swerczek, a veterinary pathologist, cautions that free-choice loose salt isn’t a foolproof preventive of grass tetany, because cattle won’t always consume enough salt if there is excess potassium and nitrate in the diet or forages.
“It may be necessary to force-feed salt (including it in the daily feed ration) or use a salt-mineral mix very high in salt and low in other minerals. It may be necessary to add something to ensure cattle consume some each day,” he says.
Swerczek recommends a pure product like sugar, or adding the salt to a grain ration to entice cattle to consume more sodium when cattle are at risk for grass tetany.
“Stockmen must be careful that salt-mineral mixes don’t contain excessive trace minerals or toxic heavy metals. Excess salt can be eliminated by consuming adequate drinking water, but excess trace minerals or toxic metals can’t be neutralized or eliminated by drinking water,” he says.
Heather Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer based in Salmon, ID.