Livestock producers beware of high nitrates
November 2, 2009
How many of you remember the old Jerry Reed song, “When you’re hot – you’re hot, when you’re not – you’re not?” Recently, I was cutting up some hot jalapeno peppers out of the garden for some salsa. Even after several hand washings, I managed to get some in my eyes and nose the next morning. That hot oil stays on your skin and will burn any mucous membrane, sensitive or absorptive skin area. So watch where you touch yourself!
Hot can have other meanings. In the song, he was speaking of how good your luck was and today’s topic does have some element of luck to it. Another definition of hot can be the presence of high nitrates either in the soil, water or in feed.
I was visiting with one of our local veterinarians and how some of the hay and silage from sorghum, sudan grass, millet or corn this year that was from dryland acres, has come back hot (high in nitrates). Farmers call me and want me to say it is okay to feed it. Well, it’s not. I know of a rancher who lost two cows already this year from nitrate poisoning.
Sometimes you can grind it and mix it if you have some low nitrate feed, especially if your water is not high in nitrates. However, in many cases you would be better off to either go purchase some good feed or sell the cattle than to feed something that might kill them. It may be best to just destroy the crop and cut your losses if it’s too hot. At this point that would mean discarding or burning the bales.
The first thing I would do if I had any sudan, millet or sorghum-sudan hay would be to take several core samples and send these in to a laboratory for testing. SDK Lab in Hutchinson or Servi-Tech in Dodge City are both good labs close to us that test feed samples. I have the names of other labs out of state if you need those. Older cows can tolerate high nitrates more than younger calves. The level of nitrates and the actual form they are reporting it makes a difference. The lab should tell you when they give the report whether it is safe or not. If they don’t, give me a call or show me the report and I can tell you where you stand.
Nitrates are hard to get rid of. Sometimes you can wait it out if the plant is still green and you get some later rain, but usually you are just stuck with it. That’s especially true at this time of the year when you already have it in the bale.
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So, you can change your luck by making some good management decisions by testing your feed. Then maybe you will be hot on luck and not get burned like I did.