Anyone with livestock (or even a garden lawn) will tell you that there is not much sign of grass growth yet. This is causing great problems for farmers who, after a poor summer for grass growth last year, are continuing to have to use the last scraps of their fodder crops while they wait for the first of the grass to appear.
There is also a concern that when the grass does start to grow, it is likely to come in a rapid flush and this too can be associated with problems for grazing animals.
Cattle will generally only eat a certain mass of food in a day. The spring grass is lush and juicy but contains a very high percentage of water. This means that when cows ingest the lush grass, they consume a large amount of fluid but the amounts of solids actually decrease.
When we consider the solid component of a foodstuff versus the water content we talk about the dry matter content of the feed and in the spring, this is at an all-time low.
While the spring grass may be very tasty when lush and green, its low dry matter content leads to exceptionally low mineral contents. As a result of the low mineral ingestion levels, the blood concentration of these minerals can drop. When blood magnesium levels drop, we see a condition called “Grass Staggers”. The low magnesium levels affect the ability of the cow’s muscles to contract and so the cow is unable to stand and presents as a “downer cow” in other words a cow who is collapsed. If it is untreated, eventually the respiratory and cardiac muscles are affected and the cow will die.
We can see cows with staggers at any time but it is especially common in Spring. Although it is potentially fatal, it can be treated. We can administer a solution containing a high concentration of magnesium and we often see a very speedy response with the cow breathing more easily within a very short time of administration of the magnesium. Within an hour or so, a cow that looked to be on the point of death, can be up and about as if nothing has happened!