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Nitrate-Laden Plants Pose Threat to Cattle

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CANADIAN, TX - Cattle rest at a watering hole in a pasture July 28, 2011 near Canadian, Texas. A severe drought has caused shortages of grass, hay and water, in much of the state, forcing ranchers to thin their herds or risk losing their cattle to the drought. The past nine months have been the driest in Texas since record keeping began in 1895, with 75% of the state classified as exceptional drought, the worst level. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CANADIAN, TX – Cattle rest at a watering hole in a pasture July 28, 2011 near Canadian, Texas. A severe drought has caused shortages of grass, hay and water, in much of the state, forcing ranchers to thin their herds or risk losing their cattle to the drought. The past nine months have been the driest in Texas since record keeping began in 1895, with 75% of the state classified as exceptional drought, the worst level. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri  agriculture officials are warning that cattle grazing on some drought-stressed plants are at risk of falling ill or even dying.

One issue is nitrate poisoning. The University of Missouri Extension says nitrate poisoning poses the biggest risk in pastures that contain sorghum sudan, millet and Johnsongrass.

Animals that eat nitrate-laden plants appear to be suffocating because nitrate poisoning inhibits the ability of blood to transport oxygen.

Nitrate is a naturally occurring form of nitrogen found in the soil. Normally, little nitrate accumulates in plants because they rapidly convert nitrate to amino acids and proteins. But when conditions are dry, the roots will take up nitrate faster than the plant can convert it.

Dry conditions also can lead to potentially toxic accumulations of prussic acid in plants such as sorghum.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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