Pregnant beef cows - feeding high nitrate forage

Producer Question from 2015

Q.  I have some sorghum sudan hay and oat hay that I tested for nitrates. It tested on the high side of what is acceptable for level of nitrates to be fed to pregnant cows. Do you have any suggestions for feeding high nitrate forage? Can I still feed this to my cows? (October 6, 2015)

A.  There needs to be caution when feeding high nitrate forage to pregnant beef cows.

If the forage is high in nitrites, then it needs to be mixed with forage that is much lower in nitrates or feed that does not contain any nitrates. Using other forages, the nitrates can be diluted to safe levels and fed. The use of cereal grains such as corn or other high energy feed can also help reduce the effect of the nitrate content. The easiest way to dilute the forage that has the nitrates is to grind and mix with the other forages or grains.

Keys to feeding a forage that contains nitrates
  • Dilute the forage that has nitrates to a safe level.
  • Adapt cattle slowly over several days to forage that contain the high nitrates.
  • Never allow cattle that are hungry access to forage that contain high nitrates.
  • Consider the utilization of a direct-fed microbial product such as Bova-Pro® that populates the rumen with microbes that produce enzymes that convert nitrates and nitrites that enter the rumen to a non-toxic form.
  • Direct-fed microbials can be introduced in either a bolus or fed with feed and should be fed 7-10 days prior to the consumption of high nitrate feed. The use of these microbials doesn't eliminate the risk, but helps to provide some "insurance" in the management and feeding of high nitrate feed.

For more information on managing high nitrate feeds, please see the article Managing Nitrates in Annual Forages and the UNL NebGuide Nitrates in Livestock Feeding. (PDF version, 611KB)

I would encourage you to consult with a Nebraska Extension Beef Specialist or Educator who can help you evaluate your ration options.

Aaron Berger, Extension Educator
Panhandle Research & Extension Center
University of Nebraska