Pasture and Forage Minute: Avoiding Tetany, Nitrate Issues, Calculating Pasture Rental Rates

Cattle eating hay
If your grass, alfalfa or cereal grain feed tests low in magnesium, switching to a high calcium or magnesium mineral will ensure better animal health and milk production.

Pasture and Forage Minute: Avoiding Tetany, Nitrate Issues, Calculating Pasture Rental Rates

Winter Hay Worries

By Ben Beckman

Grass tetany and nitrate poisoning are issues that we typically associate with animals grazing.  However, both issues can be a problem in winter when animal diets are limited by what they are fed. Is your herd safe from possible hay worries?

Tetany occurs when an animal’s diet doesn’t have enough magnesium to meet nutritional needs. Complications with milk production and increased magnesium demand can make this imbalance even worse during lactation. 

Grass, alfalfa and cereal grains harvested for hay can all be low in magnesium. Getting a hay test with mineral analysis can easily show if this is an issue we need to worry about. If tests come back showing less than 0.15% magnesium, the hay is deficient. Other mineral interactions that can worsen tetany are low calcium (<0.40%) and high in potassium (>2.5%). 

If your test comes back with issues, consider switching over to a high calcium and magnesium mineral. Most options use magnesium oxide, which is bitter tasting and can reduce animal consumption. Consider mixing with a protein or energy supplement or mixing with distillers grain or soybean meal to improve consumption if it’s not at target levels (for a 10-13% magnesium mix, this is 4 oz per head).

Another concern to keep an eye on is nitrates. Forages high in nitrate that were harvested for hay will not see a significant reduction in nitrate levels after curing. Any hay that we suspect being high in nitrate should be tested and if high, fed as a reduced portion of the diet to prevent an issue with toxicity.

Tetany and nitrates in the winter aren’t problems that often jump right to a producer’s mind, but they can be a serious issue, especially when an animal’s diet is limited to what they are fed.  Properly testing hay and adjusting mineral and diets to minimize risk can keep your winter hay worries at bay.

Pasture Leasing Rates

By Todd Whitney

Pasture rental rates are predicted to increase by 3.5% in 2023, pegging the third consecutive year of significant rental increases. Establishing fair pasture rates can be a challenge. The most popular method is using “current market rates” based on average county rental rates for each county or region of the state. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service provides annual average county pasture values each August. In 2022, Nebraska regional rates ranged from $14 in northwest to $40 in south-central to $89 in the northeast.

The UNL Center for Agricultural Profitability (CAP) also provides updated pasture rental values in the Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Survey. Values are provided as cash rental rates along with cow-calf pairs and stocker rates. For current rates, visit the Nebraska Farm Real Estate website

Those in severe drought-impacted regions might consider pricing leases based on grazing animal unit months (AUM’s) or rent per head per month of grazing, rather than flat rates per acre or cow-calf pair. A clause might be added to cover livestock water in case water sources go dry. Typically, pasture weed control is a landlord expense, but if the pasture was overgrazed due to drought, weed control costs might be shared between landowners and tenants.

Finally, stocker or feeder cattle producers might consider a rent per pound of gain method. For example, the tenant might pay 50 to 60 cents to the pasture owner for each animal pound gained during the pasture grazing.

More educational resources such as the new Nebraska Extension Budget sheets are available online at CAP, CropWatch or UNL Beef.

Subscribe to Pasture and Forage Minute

Online Master of Science in Agronomy

With a focus on industry applications and research, the online program is designed with maximum flexibility for today's working professionals.

A field of corn.