Monday, 22 August 2016

Talking magnesium at the Royal Welsh Beth Penrose

A hot (31°C), sunny, and miraculously dry, Royal Welsh Show allowed me to ask livestock farmers from around Wales and elsewhere in the UK about their knowledge of magnesium (Mg) deficiency in their herds and flocks, here I explain a little bit more about the project...

My name is Beth Penrose and I’m a postdoctoral researcher based at the University of Nottingham, working on the MAG-NET project. This project, funded by the Sustainable Agricultural Research and Innovation Club (SARIC), brings together soil geochemists, plant scientists, crop breeders, vets and fertiliser experts from British Geological Survey (co-PrincipaI Investigator (PI) Louise Ander), University of Nottingham (co-PI Martin Broadley), Aberystwyth University (co-PI Alan Lovatt) and a number of commercial companies to tackle the issue of Mg and other micronutrient deficiencies in ruminants, such as cows and sheep.

Magnesium is important in ruminants for nerve and muscle function, bone formation and in biochemical processes and therefore Mg deficiency in ruminants can be a major problem. Chronic, low level Mg deficiency and mineral imbalances can affect the amount of meat and milk farmers can get from their cows and sheep, whereas acute, high level Mg deficiency (hypomagnesaemia) causes ‘grass tetany’ or ‘grass staggers’, where animals paddle their feet and blink excessively due to loss of nerve function, and which can be fatal if not treated. For farmers, losing animals is a big deal both personally and economically.

By using a multidisciplinary approach, we hope to be able to develop strategies for combating Mg and other mineral micronutrient deficiencies from multiple angles. These include improved soil management and crop breeding for improved forage nutrition. As part of the project, we are conducting surveys into farmer awareness of hypomagnesaemia. During the show, I was based in Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) tent, and was able to get 75 farmers to answer a short questionnaire about their knowledge of Mg deficiency and what they are doing to prevent it in their animals. It also gave me a unique opportunity to have some really meaningful dialogue with farmers about their concerns about mineral deficiencies in general, which will help us optimise our project to give farmers as much useful information as possible.

Alan Lovatt, a grass breeder from IBERS, a co-PI on the MAG-NET project, also gave a talk about the project to show-goers in the IBERS tent. This helped to increase awareness of the project and stimulated some interesting discussions between Alan, myself and farmers in the audience.

After such a great time in sunny Builth Wells, it’s now time to roll out the questionnaire to the rest of the UK with the help of project partners from the veterinary sector. We’re hoping we have as positive response from these farmers as we did at the show!

If you have any questions, or would like to take part in the survey, please go to or contact me at