Nitrate Management

What is Nitrate Poisoning?

Nitrogen is naturally absorbed by plants from the soil. However, during times of stress, the plant may accumulate nitrates in toxic levels. Consumption of stressed plants with high levels of nitrates can cause the animal to die from asphyxiation. Typically, toxic levels of nitrates develop in the lower third section of plants.

How Can Producers Prevent Nitrate Poisoning?

Forages should be tested to determine if nitrates are present in the forage to be grazed. Quick test kits can be purchased that can be used in the field. However, field test only determines if nitrates are present and do not determine the actual concentration. Therefore, a positive test should be followed by laboratory analysis to determine the level of nitrates present.

Producers should take precautions when allowing livestock grazing on forages that have been stressed. Among some of the precautions are:

1. Determine the ntirate levels in various plant parts
2. Never turn hungry animals into forage that is suspected to be high in nitrates
3. Only allow animals to graze the upper 1/3 to upper 1/2 of the plant
4. Remove animals when the safe portion of the forage is consumed

Producers do not have many options when it comes to using baled forages that contain nitrates. Baled forages with higher than 2.5% should not be used for feed or even bedding. If the nitrate levels are below 2.5% then:

1. Grind the bales and mix thorougly with hay that is free of nitrates.
2. Greenchop material should be fed immediately
3. Do not feed material after is has been held overnight or heated
4. Plants with high nitrates can be harvested for silage rather than hay to decrease nitrate levels.

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