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New Plant May Help Thwart Grass Tetany

By Marcia Wood
April 30, 1999

A new tall fescue grass called “HiMag” may help protect cattle, sheep, goats and deer from an affliction known as grass tetany. When ruminants--that is, animals with four stomachs--have too little magnesium in their blood, grass tetany can result.

Also known as hypomagnesemia, grass tetany often is fatal. It causes an estimated $50 to $150 million in livestock production losses each year in the United States.

American pastureland has more tall fescue than any other forage grass. And because the new variety is unusually high in magnesium, it should help protect vulnerable animals from magnesium deficiencies. Plans call for HiMag seed to be made available to plant breeders this year, according to ARS soil scientist Henry F. Mayland at the ARS Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory at Kimberly, Idaho.

Mayland developed HiMag tall fescue with Glenn E. Shewmaker--formerly with ARS and now with the University of Idaho--and David A. Sleper and colleagues at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

The idea of breeding a high-magnesium forage grass to combat grass tetany isn't new. But the ARS scientists and their university co-researchers are the first to accomplish that with tall fescue. They recommend HiMag for rain-fed pastures in eastern, southeastern and Pacific Northwestern States and British Columbia. So far, it has been tested in Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, New York, Texas, Utah and Virginia as well as in Canada.

An article in the April issue of the ARS monthly journal, Agricultural Research, tells more. View it on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contact: Henry F. Mayland, ARS Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory, Kimberly, Idaho, phone (208) 423-6562, fax (208) 423-6555,