Livestock

Beware of nitrate poising, southern Riverina farmer says

By Rodney Woods

A southern Riverina farmer is putting the warning out to other farmers about the risks of nitrate poisoning.

The farmer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he lost 130 of his breeding cattle herd overnight in late February after they had grazed on hay made from millet, which was grown in soils that had high levels of nitrogen.

The farmer still is unaware of how the levels got above the desired levels and has not had a problem since.

“I urge farmers to be cautious as nitrate poising can be deadly,” he said.

“If you are at all suspect, get your feed tested at a food laboratory.”

The farmer said he burnt 18 to 23 bales of hay so the healthy-looking crop did not hurt any other farmer's herds.

NSW Local Land Services said there were a number of ways to help lower the risk of nitrate poisoning in stock.

Knowing the risk:

●Testing for nitrate is the only way to be sure of nitrate levels in feed. There is no relationship between the level of protein in feed and the level of nitrates.

●The level of nitrate in hay doesn’t change over time.

●The levels in silage may decrease due to the fermentation process, but this doesn’t guarantee that it will be reduced to a safe level, especially in drier, baled silage.

●Sheep can be less susceptible to nitrate poisoning than cattle, in part because they are more selective grazers.

Reduce the risk:
 
●Don’t put hungry stock straight onto feed with a high nitrate level.
 
●Decrease the amount of nitrate in the diet by diluting it with other, low-nitrate feeds.
 
●The leaves of the plant have less nitrate than the stem. The less stalky the feed, the lower the risk.