Nitrate Quick Test Training and Certification Back »

This article was written collaboratively by Dr. Ken Olson and Adele Harty.


The educational goal of the Nitrate Quick Test training and certification is an awareness and education of nitrates in forages and how various nitrate levels can affect ruminant livestock, particularly cattle and sheep. A secondary goal is to provide an understanding of the opportunity to prevent nitrate toxicity in ruminant livestock through a qualitative real-time test.

Nitrates in feeds can be a concern, no matter the growing conditions. However drought years are when producers tend to think about the risk more often. Certain plants are nitrate accumulators and can contain toxic levels of nitrate when consumed by ruminant livestock. Various nitrate levels will have different effects on cattle and sheep, from decreasing performance to abortions to death. The Nitrate Quick Test is a tool that provides results quickly at little or no cost to the producer. The results indicate the presence or absence of nitrate in plants providing producers valuable information to make better management decisions regarding feeds and whether they need to be sent to an analytical laboratory for further analysis. In 2013, precipitation levels were more near normal in later summer than 2012, but many sorghum, sudan, and millet samples still tested high in nitrates and would not be safe to feed to pregnant cattle. By providing a Quick Test, producers can potentially save some money by not having to send all samples to a laboratory, but more importantly it may motivate producers to have an initial test performed to determine whether there is risk. By providing this test, producers can be proactive in decreasing the nitrates fed to cattle, which subsequently decreases death loss and abortion as a result. Since the start of the Nitrate Quick Test in South Dakota, over 1500 samples have been analyzed in a local office, with only a portion of these needing to be sent to an analytical laboratory for further analysis.

There are two target audiences: First being those professionals who are trained on an annual basis to provide the service of testing for nitrates. This will consist of 30-50 professionals across the state, depending on their time and availability to do the testing. These will be Extension Field and State Specialists and Veterinarians predominately. The second target audience is producers. These will be producers who are raising the crops that can accumulate nitrates, as well as those who would like to feed these crops to their cattle or other livestock. This audience can use the information in making decisions on whether or not a crop is ready to be put up for hay or grazed safely. The producers can be trained to test their own forages.

Providing Nitrate Quick Test training to producers and allied industry personnel increases the likelihood that tests will be conducted on potentially toxic forages prior to feeding them to thousands of head of cattle and sheep, thus preventing economic losses from reduced performance, abortions, and death of livestock. This in turn improves profitability and quality of life for ranch families and rural communities.

A. Curriculum/Teaching Plan

Extension professionals, Veterinarians, and interested producers will be given up to 4 opportunities for training during the spring/early summer. These trainings will utilize the curriculum including powerpoint and videos modified from Montana State University. Videos will be updated and incorporated into the SDSU presentation.

B. In-Person Delivery components

 The trainings will be conducted through the DDN system with a local contact who will take care of the logistics regarding the paperwork. All testing of forages will be done through a one-on-one, face-to-face basis when people bring samples to the office. If others who are trained have questions, they will be instructed to take a photo and send it to Ken or Adele to assist with interpretation.

C. Technology Base components

The trainings will be provided through the DDN system. Resource materials will be available on iGrow.

D. End User Products

A kit with the reagent and tools needed to administer the test will be provided to all professionals that complete training and certification. Ultimate end users will be producers with feeds to be tested. The end product they receive will be the test result.

Resources are materials in the test kit, which include the solution and a kit with tools to prepare and apply the solution with proper safety equipment.


Key Contacts: Dr. Ken Olson and Adele Harty.

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