Urea is a useful non-protein source of nitrogen for ruminants, but if not managed properly can cause poisoning.
This occurs when urea is not properly mixed into the ration or lick blocks disintegrate and end up in water sources.
Urea blocks in drums may dissolve in rain water and be drunk by cattle, causing poisoning.
Urea licks should have salt added to limit intake.
Cattle do develop tolerance to urea but should be allowed to adapt slowly.
Signs of Urea Poisoning
Urea poisoning results in a generalized alkalosis (increased pH) of the system which causes nervous symptoms such as:
- Lack of balance
- Signs of difficult breathing as a result of lung edema
- Death can occur rapidly if the animals are not treated promptly by administering vinegar to neutralize the alkalosis.
How to Prevent Urea Poisoining
Protect the lick from rain
The troughs which can comprise of half drums or tyres should preferably be protected from rain. Open troughs should have holes in them so that rainwater can drain. There is a risk that rainwater can collect in the trough and that when animals drink from it, it contains a high concentration of urea, which will lead to urea poisoning.
Too many animals at one trough may cause greediness which can lead to poisoning. Therefore, provision should be made to provide one trough or lick block for every 10 or 15 animals.