BILLINGS — As the drought across our region intensifies, Montana State University Extension educators are urging ranchers to evaluate feed and grazing for nitrate toxicity.
“With the conditions, our normal forage and grasses are short and they're dry,” said Custer County MSU Extension Agent Mike Schuldt. “So, the cows are looking for anything green and that tends to be our weedy species. Any of our annual weeds, such as Kochia, Lambs Quarter, Canada Thistle and Russian Thistle tend to be a riskier type of a grazing species. That's what we're warning ranchers, if that seems to be what the cows are going through, we need to be paying attention and recognize there are some risks.”
Water availability has also become severely limited and many livestock reservoirs have either dried up completely or barely have any water in them which can also be dangerous to livestock.
“It's a risky time for cattle, especially with the water,” said Schuldt. “We've been we've been doing a lot of water testing and not just this extension office, but throughout the region. We've seen some instances of blue green algae already this year, which is quite risky for the cattle. We need to keep cattle out of blue green algae water. The total dissolved solids are what we measure at the office and they've been elevated into those risky levels.”
Symptoms of nitrate toxicity in livestock include heavy breathing, muscle tremors, weakness and staggering. During this drought, ranchers are encouraged to have their feed and water tested at their local MSU extension office before turning livestock out to make sure they stay healthy and safe.
If these symptoms are seen, remove the nitrate-containing feed or move the livestock out of the pasture and contact a veterinarian for a treatment plan right away.