Nitrate toxicity is sometimes a lethal problem for livestock especially during the fall. The amount of nitrate accumulated within the plant depends on two factors: the rate of uptake by the plant from the soil, and the rate the plant reduces it. If uptake exceeds the rate of reduction, large amounts of nitrate can accumulate. If the rate of reduction equals the rate of uptake, there is no accumulation.
Nitrate accumulation usually results from plant stress, such as drought, and is accentuated by excessive soil nitrogen. Most nitrates accumulate in plant stems rather than leaves, and concentration tends to be highest in immature forage. A characteristic symptom of nitrate toxicity is a chocolate-brown color to the blood.
Use good management practices to avoid poisoning. Fertility programmes consistent with plant needs and growing conditions minimise the problem. Test potentially dangerous forage before feeding.
Nitrate poisoning can be a serious problem for livestock producers if not considered in their management plan. Drought, excessive soil nitrogen, shade, frost, certain herbicides, acid soils, low growing temperatures and nutrient deficiencies can contribute to high nitrate levels in plants. Stems usually have higher nitrate content than leaves. Do not overlook the nitrate content of water when a nitrate problem arises. Avoid poisoning by routinely testing any forage suspected of containing excessive nitrate. High nitrate forages can be used by diluting it with other feedstuffs and supplementing it with energy.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Colorado State University Extension.