Magnesium Deficiency in Beef Cattle

Mineral supplements may need to be added to feed to avoid magnesium deficency.
Mineral supplements may need to be added to feed to avoid magnesium deficency. (Image: cattle image by hazel proudlove from

Magnesium is a vital macro element that beef cattle must consume in adequate levels to ensure quality health. Magnesium is important for the proper functioning of the nervous system as well as enzymes. Due to beef cattle grazing in distant pastures, it can be difficult to catch a magnesium deficiency in the early stages. However, magnesium deficiency can be prevented with simple supplements added to beef cattle's feed.

Macro Element

Magnesium is a macro element. Macro elements are elements that are required in large quantities in the diet. It is important for beef cattle to consume enough of the macro elements or the quality of the meat they produce may suffer. If the deficiency of macro elements becomes too severe, it can affect the life of beef cattle so severely that it may not be possible to sell them at slaughter.

Grass Tetany

Grass tetany is a type of magnesium deficiency that can occur in beef cattle that are grazing on grain pastures in the late winter and lush new grass in the early spring months. Grass tetany, if left unchecked, can result in a potentially fatal metabolic disorder in beef cattle. Cows that have had more than one calf and are lactating are more susceptible to grass tetany and are more likely to die from it. Cattle that are grazing on land that has been fertilized heavily with nitrogen and potassium fertilizers after an extended cold period are at higher risk of developing grass tetany.


Beef cattle who are suffering from magnesium deficiency will display certain symptoms. If these symptoms are observed in only a few cattle in a herd, it is possible that a different health problem is the culprit. However, if the majority of the herd is exhibiting the symptoms, immediate action should be taken to supplement the herd’s diet and reverse the effects.

Cattle suffering from magnesium deficiency will show extreme nervousness. When approached, they will be flighty and jumpy. When the animal moves to get away suddenly, it will demonstrate a lack of coordination and may fall. The muscles under the skin will twitch erratically. The animal may not be able to stand up again.

Excess Potassium

Potassium is another important mineral in beef cattle. Too much potassium, however, can be detrimental, as it can prohibit the absorption of magnesium. If potassium fertilizer is over-applied to pasture land, it can prevent the grass from absorbing magnesium from the ground. This can result in a double threat to beef cattle, as they are not only exposed to excess potassium in their diet, but the pasture grass is also deficient in magnesium.


Magnesium deficiency can be prevented by adding supplements to the beef cattle diet. Several feed companies make magnesium supplement products that can be added to silage or other food rations to increase the amount of consumed magnesium. A mixture containing 10 to 14 percent of magnesium is adequate to provide enough magnesium for a beef cow consuming approximately 4 oz. a day.

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