Nitrate poisoning is a life-threatening health issue that can affect cattle foraging on plants affected by drought conditions. It can result in death if not detected and treated quickly. It’s important to know the factors that lead to it and the warning signs cattle will exhibit.

Symptoms take five days to a week to show up. They include the blood turning chocolate brown, brown discoloration around the skin and non-pigmented mucous membranes. Additional symptoms include staggering, rapid pulse, rapid and labored breathing, frothing, frequent urination, diarrhea and incoordination, according to a UF/IFAS paper. While it’s not as big a problem in Florida as it is in the rest of the Southeast, the affliction can occur.

Conditions Leading to Nitrate Poisoning

The main condition that contributes to nitrate poisoning is drought. Nitrates build up in forages like Bermuda grass when nitrogen has been applied—either as barnyard fertilizer or nitrogen fertilizer—prior to drought conditions that limit the forage’s regrowth. Additional conditions that contribute to or affect the ailment include:

  • Cattle are grazing heavily fertilized and rapidly growing forages (generally with no grains)
  • High-producing cows are fed such forages
  • Previous ration received or adaptation of the animal
  • The amount of other available feedstuffs being eaten by livestock, such as a diet low in protein
  • The animal’s total daily intake of nitrate
  • The general health of the animal

Preventing Nitrate Poisoning

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s a smart move to take steps to stop your cattle from being poisoned. Follow these steps:

  • Forage samples should be tested during times of drought
  • Limit grazing to a few animals for a week
  • Feed a small amount for a week
  • Balance forage with other feed

Death can occur in as little as 24 hours after the start of symptoms. Contact a veterinarian if nitrate poisoning is suspected.

Griffin Fertilizer is committed to helping both growers and ranchers make sound agronomic and economic decisions in order to maximize the health of their grove and pasture. As a full-service custom dry & liquid fertilizer blender and crop protection product distributor, we will continue our mission to further advance Florida agriculture. For questions or concerns about your farm or pasture, contact us and one of our team will be in touch.

Image courtesy of F Delventhal.