There are four reasons for adding ammonia to cattle forages:
However if ammonia is used to treat relatively high sugar forages then problems can result with cattle showing nervous signs. The condition is often described as "bovine bonkers". The most likely cause of the problem are imidazoles, which are by products of the reaction between ammonia and plant sugars
The signs are usually seen within hours of eating the ammonia-treated feed. The higher the dose the faster the signs develop.
Signs usually last for around 5 minutes and may be repeated at 20-30 minute intervals. During these intervals affected animals will resume eating and show no signs. Signs have also been reported in calves sucking cows eating ammoniated forages but this is not a consistent finding.
The clinical signs are very useful particularly in conjunction with access to ammonia-treated forages.
However, there are no definitive tests so the diagnosis has to remain presumptive.
Get veterinary advice as soon as possible to rule out other causes of nervous disease.
No treatment has been found.
Remove the source of ammonia.
Roughage containing high levels of reduced sugars, including grass and whole crop feeds, should not be treated with ammonia, nor should forages that are already mouldy.
High levels of moisture in the forage and high environmental temperatures predispose to the production of the toxin so avoid treating wet forages with ammonia particularly in summer. Also ensure that the percentage of ammonia is less than 3%.
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