Better Safe Than Sorry With Alternative Livestock Feeds

Rumors of nitrate poisoning in N.C. unsubstantiated, but testing recommended.

Published on: Nov 5, 2007

A drought across the Southeast is bringing forecasts of hay shortages this year. That has livestock producers in the Carolinas and Virginias scrambling to find alternative feeds.

But the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is warning producers that although the majority of alternative feeds being used are safe, it is recommended to test any alternative feeds for high levels of nitrates, before using them.

A certain amount of nitrates in feed is not harmful but if too much is in the feed it can cause nitrate poisoning which can be dangerous. Some signs of nitrate poisoning are difficult breathing, rapid pulse, weakness, bloat, salivation, tremors, staggering and dark mucous membranes and blood. Nitrate poisoning can even result in death of livestock.

There have been some rumors of nitrate poisoning in North Carolina cattle but NCDA says so far the rumors have not been substantiated. Still, N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler says it is a good idea to have feed tested.

"For the past few months, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and N.C. Cooperative Extension have coordinated educational sessions about the use of dried corn stalks and leaves as feed," Troxler added. "Large quantities have been harvested for use during the coming winter, and cattlemen have been surprised at how well the cows consume this material, commonly known as stover."

Despite fears, then, NCDA says so far their tests have shown the great majority of livestock feed and forage samples they've received would not be a problem. Producers can submit samples for testing at or call (919) 733-7366. If tests show positive for nitrates above 0.25% NCDA says producers should contact their local Extension livestock agent for information regarding its use.

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