The April issue article by Heather Smith Thomas was based on interviews she conducted with me on the grass tetany syndrome. While she did an admirable job of addressing the topic in a limited amount of space, the references provided to her unfortunately could not be included. Greater detail and scientific references on the importance of salt in the prevention of grass tetany are available here, here & here.

Research from Europe has been published in scientific peer-reviewed journals for many years, and those findings were discussed in Thomas’s article, along with my observations. It’s important to note that the research findings are consistent with my observations and findings on many farms over the course of several years.

Furthermore, a leading authority on grass tetany, H. Martens, DVM, faculty of veterinary medicine, Free University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany, reviewed my findings and commented that my observation and conclusions about a possible role of sodium deficiency in the pathogenesis of grass tetany “are very important from a practical standpoint. Though the relationship has been long known, sodium deficiency is still an overlooked factor in the pathogenesis of grass tetany, especially in grazing beef cattle. Sodium supplementation is an easy, inexpensive and a simple prophylactic tool for the prevention of an important metabolic disease of cattle.”

The use of sodium for the prevention of grass tetany has been practiced in Europe for many years, but this information hasn’t been given to U.S. cattlemen. Consequently, grass tetany remains a costly but very preventable disease of cattle. 

Thomas Swerczek presents these supporting documents:

Nitrate Toxicity & Sodium Deficiency

Sodium For The Prevention of Grass Tetany, Bloat, and Fetal Loss in Herbivores

In addition, Holger Martens, Free University of Berlin veterinary physiologist, offers this general response to the April article, as well as a more detailed paper on Grass Tetany: Aetiology and Prevention.

  1. Na deficiency is indeed an overlooked factor in the pathogenesis of grass tetany. It is well established that Na deficiency is causing a replacement of Na by K in saliva. The high rate of saliva in connection with the high concentrations of K in saliva during Na deficiency leads to a significant inflow of K into the rumen which can be even higher than on a K rich diet (3 – 4 % K in DM) (H. Martens, O.W. Kubel, G. Gäbel, H. Honig: Effects of low sodium intake on magnesium metabolism in sheep. J. agric. Sci. 108, (1987), 237-243). Furthermore, Na deficiency reduces feed intake, which could exacerbate Na deficiency and latent hypomagnesaemia (Morris and Gartner: The sodium requirement of growing steers given all-sorghum grain ration. Br. J. Nutr. (1971) 25: 191-205).
  2. Supplementation of Na as NaCl in combination with MgO is practicable with lick stones. Na supplementation is no reason to give up necessary intake of trace elements.
  3. Free choice of Na could be a risk if the animals are in severe Na deficiency and Na is suddenly offered. Under these conditions the animals will take up more Na than really needed which could even disturb Mg metabolism (renal loss of Mg).
  4. Na intake according the requirement is an obligation, but Na is no miracle drug or panacea which solves all the problems. Na supplementation is no reason to give other well established means of prevention of grass tetany as pasture dusting with Mg or Mg supplementation with the drinking water.