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In Last 30 Days, 200 Dead Cows in the State of Missouri

Friday, March 8, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kim Ralston
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This winter, farmers have found groups of cows dead, often falling on newly unrolled baled hay. In the worst cases, half the herd dies. Often the first sign of trouble is 10 dead cows.


In the last month, the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in Columbia diagnosed more than 200 deaths from nitrate poisoning. The lab’s toxicology section head, Tim Evans, said it first in an emergency conference call of MU Extension folks: “It’s very complex.”

According to MU Extension, beef nutritionist Eric Bailey told of first aid to help nitrate-stricken cattle: feed shelled corn to cows normally fed hay.


Unusual weather the last couple of years may have set up this problem. Too much rain turned to too much drought. Hot weather turned very cold. Such extremes affect the biology of plant growth. Also, lots of pastures didn’t grow, and that led to hay shortages


Fertilizer and poultry litter make grass grow. Nitrogen enters the plant as nitrate. That adds growth and protein for hay fed to cattle. Nitrogen fuels a cow’s rumen, the first stomach in digestion. In the end, nitrogen creates protein, making meat. Normally, more nitrogen on hayfields helps. More protein-rich hay grows healthy cattle.


When rains turn to drought, biology stops working. When plant juices stop flowing from roots to leaves, the raw nitrate stays in grass stems. When farmers bale nitrate-rich grass, the hay can turn toxic.


What is normally a good practice of fertilizing grass becomes a bad practice. Who knew? As specialists said, “It’s very complex.” Many variables come into play.


The cow rumen needs nitrates to digest hay and make protein. Too much nitrate in hay stems overwhelms the digestive system. Toxins spill over into the blood.


This is where it gets more complex. An oversupply of nitrate ends up as nitrite. Nitrites prevent oxygen from binding with red blood cells. Without oxygen, animals die. That’s how nitrate-rich hay can kill cows quickly.

All a farmer sees of that complexity are dead cows beside hay just unrolled. READ MORE

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