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Sheep Staggers

1 May 2016
sheep staggers

Image from Flock & Herd

Beware of staggers in sheep, prevention is always easier and more effective than cure. As a reminder, it is a metabolic disorder caused by low levels of blood magnesium. Sheep are most susceptible post lambing when they are turned out to grass. There are numerous causes of staggers but the most common are stress from either weather or moving fields and high nitrogen and potassium being applied to the field. The stress of poor weather often makes the ewe take her lambs in to shelter, where there is limited food, resulting in a restricted intake, which leads to inadequate absorption of magnesium. Magnesium is available from herbage and forage but availability reduces when nitrogen and potassium levels increase. Magnesium levels are higher in clover than they are in grasses, high nitrogen applications can suppress the clover which can lead to a lower magnesium levels in the herbage in the spring.

Simple management changes can prevent sheep staggers including:

  • Supplementary Feed – offering supplementary feed that is high in fibre can assist with slowing down digestion and increase the length of time broken down food is in the intestine for magnesium absorption.  Offering feed such as hay in the field also offers a place of shelter for the ewe and lambs, preventing her from fasting when sheltering from poor weather.
  • Soil Analysis – Routine soil analysis shows the Magnesium level of soil, use of Magnesian limestone rather than Calcium limestone, maintains the levels.  However, the efficiency decreases as the soil pH increases e.g. soil over pH 6.5 use alternative source of magnesium.
  • Fertiliser Applications – Modify fertiliser applications so Potassium applications are carried out later in the season.
  • Supply in Diet – A regular supply of Magnesium in the diet e.g. offer free access minerals.

Kirsten Williams,


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