Are you losing urea to ammonia

Urea losses to ammonia

If you are using alkaline bore water, chances are that you are losing urea to ammonia. Losses can be as high as 50%.

This can occur in alkaline water where urea is less stable and breaks down to ammonia or if the enzyme, urease, is present in the trough from bacterial activity.

Ammonia can exist in water in two forms. The ammonium ion NH4, is stable in neutral or acid waters and remains in solution and will not be lost. As well, it is non toxic to fish or other organisms. The ammonia molecule NH3, is mainly present in alkaline waters. This form is relatively unstable and will also be lost to the atmosphere, depending on the levels in the water.

How do you tell if you are losing urea to ammonia?

The most practical method is to measure the pH of the water, before and after dosing with urea. If urea is breaking down to ammonia the pH will rise. For example it may go from pH 8 in normal bore water to pH 9 after dosing in the trough. Any rise in pH is a sure sign of urea breakdown.

In severe cases you may be able to smell the ammonia in the trough or holding tank. The smell is distinctive and noticeable in severe cases of urea breakdown.

Cattle can smell ammonia and generally do not like it. You can observe this by watching their behaviour at the trough. Firstly there is some hesitancy to drink. When they drink normally, the nostrils are above the water line. If the smell is bad, they often plunge their nostrils below the water line before taking a gulp of water.

This will happen to a degree in most alkaline bore waters.

How do you fix it?

If you detect or suspect urea losses to ammonia in your system, this can be fixed by adjusting the formula by increasing the urea phosphate content in the formula.

Urea phosphate is an acid and helps prevent urea converting to ammonia and also forces any free ammonia in the water to the ammonium ion, which is not lost to the atmosphere. As well. urea phosphate is stable in water and there is no loss of nitrogen as with urea.

If you are using the bag mix system, this is simply a a matter of adjusting the bag ratios. If you are using a premixed formula then you will need to replace a portion of that formula with urea phosphate.

Please contact us for assistance if you are experiencing urea losses to ammonia in the water trough and we will be able to help in solving the problem.


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