September 2020 Issue



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Subscribe FREE now! Monthly issues with new articles and other educational information on meat goat health, nutrition, and management written by Suzanne W. Gasparotto of Onion Creek Ranch and Pat Cotten of Bending Tree Ranch. In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Neither Suzanne Gasparotto nor Pat Cotten are veterinarians. None of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.


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Grass tetany, also known as grass staggers or hypomagnesemia, is a metabolic disease in goats. A metabolic disease is one which interferes with the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life. Although often called "wheat pasture poisoning," grass tetany is not restricted to wheat fields. This disease usually occurs in springtime in lush pastures, but it can also appear following cool rainy weather in the fall when cool season grasses and green cereal grains are beginning to grow.

Symptoms include wide-eyed staring, muscle twitching in the ears and flanks, hypersensitivity to sound and touch, staggering, foaming at the mouth, and convulsions. Goats most at risk are lactating does (milk production involves the utilization of lots of magnesium) and older goats. Least at risk are young goats, wethers, dry does, and younger adult bucks.

Grass tetany is a magnesium deficiency caused by an imbalance of potassium with calcium and magnesium and usually requires veterinary assistance to treat. Producers try to avoid "staggers" by limiting access to lush pastures while providing minerals that are high in magnesium. Like prussic acid poisoning and nitrate poisoning, grass tetany kills quickly. Death often occurs within two to three hours of onset of the disease.

Soil conditions and fertilization practices can contribute to grass tetany. Soils and fertilizers high in potassium and nitrogen can produce plants that contain high potassium and low calcium and magnesium levels that can suppress magnesium absorption. Mineral interaction is complex. Goat raisers must learn how to prevent grass tetany and be vigilant when conditions are ripe to produce it.

If you can obtain veterinary assistance quickly, the proper treatment involves slow intravenous (IV) administration of calcium and magnesium. This is not something that the average goat producer can do. In an emergency when a vet is not available, you can try to save the goat by treating it as if it had "milk fever" ( hypocalcemia) with repeated dosing of CMPK or MFO orally. See my article on Hypocalcemia on the Articles page at PREVENTION is the key.

Producers should offer quality hay free choice to goats that have access to pastures that can cause grass tetany, and you must make sure that goats have eaten grain or grass hay before letting them out onto lush pasture each day. Goats should also receive a quality loose mineral properly formulated with higher levels of magnesium and offered on a free-choice basis.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, ONION CREEK RANCH. Texas. 9.1.20




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