Magnesium Deficiency Caused by Severe Drought Conditions

Magnesium deficiency in animals can become critical during drought conditions because of heat stress, dehydration, and loss of electrolytes. Low magnesium in cells exacerbates dehydration. Water is essential for life itself and magnesium helps water to access cells for better hydration.  Without enough magnesium we lose the water too quickly. Magnesium for horses is essential for electrolyte balance and hydration.

Excessive stress causes magnesium deficiency

One mineral we can’t afford to lose too much of is magnesium, yet it is lost excessively under stress.   It is the mineral most likely deficient in animals during extreme climatic conditions, including floods, drought and bushfires, because magnesium is lost during stresses and traumas, excessive exertions, inclement weather or travelling.  See study.

When magnesium levels drop, temperaments become cranky and irritable, muscles can twitch and spasm uncontrollably, heart rhythm can falter, sugar diabetes, laminitis and inflammation can be ignited, and the immune system can become compromised. 

Magnesium is the master mineral that drives our metabolism via mitochondrial production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – the electrical energy batteries that drive all biological processes from energy metabolism to enzyme activity, detoxification, DNA repair and protein synthesis.  Magnesium is easily the most important mineral due to its primary role with energy metabolism, with a chain reaction of adverse effects following lower levels.

Magnesium deficiency high in Australia

We tend to experience quite a lot of magnesium deficiency in animals (and humans) all over Australia as we have one of the lowest magnesium soils in the world.  Consequently, grasses are usually high in sugars, but low in magnesium.  Organic farmers who treat their soils with mineral supplements including magnesium have a better chance at harvesting plants with higher levels of magnesium. 

EXCERPT FROM CSIRO STUDY:  Role of magnesium fertilisers in agriculture: plant–soil continuum

“Magnesium is a common constituent in many minerals, comprising 2% of Earth’s crust; however, most soil Magnesium (90–98%) is incorporated in the crystal lattice structure of minerals and thus not directly available for plant uptake. Plants absorb Magnesium from the soil solution, which is slowly replenished by soil reserves. Duration and intensity of weathering, soil moisture, soil pH, and root–microbial activity in soil are key factors that determine plant-available Magnesium release from soils. On the other hand, the amount of Magnesium released from soil minerals is generally small compared with the amounts needed to sustain high crop yield and quality. Thus, in many agro-ecosystems, application of Magnesium fertilisers is crucial. Magnesium is involved in many physiological and biochemical processes; it is an essential element for plant growth and development and plays a key role in plant defence mechanisms in abiotic stress situations. An early effect of Magnesium deficiency in plants is the disturbed partitioning of assimilates between roots and shoots because the supply of sink organs with photosynthetic products is impaired, and sugars accumulate in source leaves. Thus, optimal supply of Magnesium is required to improve crop tolerance to various stresses and to increase yield and quality parameters of harvested products. Unlike other cations, Magnesium is very mobile in soils because it is less bound to the soil charges. Therefore, Magnesium losses by leaching might occur in sandy soils with high water conductivity. Leaching of Magnesium in soils when applied with various water-soluble fertilisers may also vary depending on the fertiliser’s chemical composition, granule size, and effect on soil pH and cation balance.”


Natural magnesium chloride salt is easily digested and absorbed

Supplementing grazing paddocks with magnesium salts helps to provide the horse with better quality grazing, however, excessive stresses may require extra nutrient supplementation – such as magnesium chloride (magnesium for horses) dissolved in daily feeds.

When we go from drought to flooding rains, it is another extreme weather condition that leads to magnesium deficiency.  This is because magnesium is easily lost from surface soils due to its high solubility in water. It takes time for earthworms to bring magnesium back up to plant roots from the lower soil strata (if available).  In many areas the soil is so deficient that it can’t even support sufficient earthworms.

Management of horse health, diet and nutrition is often a challenging balancing act, as they are so sensitive to stress and environmental changes.  However, ensuring they have ample magnesium certainly gives them a head start to cope better and develop resilience.

See recommended magnesium chloride feeding methods to avoid magnesium deficiency. Help your horse relieve stress and calm down.

By Sandy Sanderson © 2020


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