17th September 2020

How to Reduce the Risk and Protect Your Herd from Staggers

Autumn means lush grass, changeable weather and, therefore, a higher Staggers risk for cows. 

In the first of a series of monthly features from Scottish vets focussing on seasonal animal health topics,  large animal vet Hamish Marsden from Clyde Vet Group highlights the ways in which farmers can reduce the risk and protect their herd from Staggers - a disease affecting cows caused by an imbalance in blood magnesium levels.

“There are two seasons in Scotland, June and Winter.”

Billy Connolly may have been disappointingly accurate with his weather forecast, but at least it means you can relax for one month...!

The predictably unpredictable conditions can play havoc with health planning and disease, and cases of Staggers (grass tetany/hypomagnesaemia) can just be the icing on the cake.

The disease is generally seen in spring and autumn with wet lush grass. This grass has lower Magnesium levels and the low dry matter reduces the gut transit time, so the cow has less time to digest it fully.


Early symptoms are difficult to identify; however, farmers should look out for: excitability, high head carriage, incoordination. This leads to the more commonly seen down cow with seizures, foaming at the mouth and paddling feet.


Staggers is treatable, details of which should be discussed with your vet in your annual health plan, but it is a genuine veterinary emergency, so it is essential you contact your vet on the phone straight away if you have a case in your herd.


There are a couple of factors that can increase the risk of Staggers including high potassium and nitrogen fertiliser use, and older cows.

However, the following steps can be put in place to lower the risk to your herd:

Identify your at-risk cows - old cows, lactating cows Conduct soil and grass analysis on high-risk parts of the farm  Look at high-risk times of the year on your own farm Once these are identified, plan ahead to anticipate problems

Another method for reducing Staggers is to graze diverse multispecies swards during high-risk periods and graze sheltered fields if possible, during stormy weather.

Also look at feeding cows on deferred grazing with higher dry matter levels and offer straw in ring feeders to slow feed passage through rumen.

It’s important to contact your nutritionist to advise on supplementing cattle with magnesium. There are various methods, my preferred options are slow release magnesium boluses and high mag rolls – mineral licks have their place; however, intake is unpredictable.

Nutritional supplements may appear expensive but weigh it up against losses and buying replacements.  I would encourage everyone to discuss treatment options and risk identification as part of their annual health plan.

Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) has launched a new guide aimed at helping farmers to reduce the risk and protect their herd from Staggers. Please visit the QMS website to download.




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