We read with alarm the article entitled “The Grass Tetany Puzzle: Research by a veterinary pathologist indicates salt is a big factor in preventing and treating grass tetany” by Heather Smith Thomas in the April 2012 edition of BEEF (page 22). While the theories put forth by Thomas Swerczek are thought-provoking, to our knowledge he has not performed any science-based controlled studies to research these ideas, and has not published data supporting these theories in any peer-reviewed scientific journal. The majority of the information provided in the article is anecdotal in nature.

We recommend that producers do not adopt the practice of feeding solely white salt, and especially not force-feeding white salt, to cattle for a number of reasons:

• Too much salt, as with any substance, can be dangerous, and fatal salt intoxication can occur if excessive amounts of salt are force-fed.

•  Trace minerals such as copper, selenium, and zinc are all essential nutrients vital for proper growth and production. Trace mineral deficiencies that may be exacerbated by eliminating them from supplements when needed can predispose animals to serious and sometimes fatal disease conditions.

• Interactions occur between all the various metals, minerals, and other elements in the diet, and optimal amounts of all elements are essential for proper nutrition.

• Regional soil types, soil fertility and forage species can result in different mineral intakes of grazing livestock and to make a blanket statement disregarding these factors is oversimplifying a complex situation.

• Grass tetany, or hypomagnesemia, is a well-recognized condition, with well-researched and proven treatment and prevention strategies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Recommendation to replace these practices with unproven theory is irresponsible and can be detrimental to the health and well-being of livestock.

We would recommend that before publishing materials that could potentially be harmful to animal health and herd production, the editors should determine if the information provided can be supported by research and appropriate peer-reviewed publications. We also advise that all producers consult with their veterinarians and livestock nutritionists before making any management changes of this scope.

  • Michelle Arnold, University of Kentucky (UK) Veterinary Diagnostic Lab Extension ruminant veterinarian
  • Roy Burris, UK Extension beef specialist
  • Cynthia Gaskill, UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory veterinary toxicologist
  • Jeff Lehmkuhler, UK Extension beef cattle specialist