Field Guide to Plants Poisonous to Livestock - Western U.S.
Steps to Prevent Plant Poisoning
Experts agree that plant poisoning can be minimized. Here are some suggestions that may help owners of livestock of all types protect their animals:
- Pasture management is critical. Learn about plants in pastures and the animals that will graze there. Seek help from Extension agents and others, if necessary. Some options:
§ Eliminate or fence securely around toxic plants, especially if animals may find them palatable or if they are highly toxic or abundant. NOTE: If you grub out highly poisonous plants such as the various Water hemlock species (Cicuta spp.), take appropriate precautions to protect yourself and others, especially children.
§ If animals will have access to less palatable toxic plants, ensure that they always have adequate safe forage available. Check plant levels and types periodically. Do not overgraze.
§ Watch carefully in early spring or late fall when toxic plants may be more prevalent than others.
§ Know which plants are drought resistant. They may be the only food available under some circumstances.
§ Watch out for toxic plants that are evergreen from fall to spring.
§ Ensure that animals have adequate water, as well as salt and mineral supplementation, if needed.
§ Avoid giving access to plants during their toxic season(s).
§ Check on your pastured animals regularly and know the signs of poisoning to allow prompt action in case poisoning occurs.
§ Be careful with herbicides (including those that may be applied by others, e.g., local government entities). Learn about their direct effect on animals, whether animals may be attracted by application of the product and, if palatability is likely to increase, know about the inherent toxicity of those plants.
- Be prepared to identify and respond appropriately to toxic plants when animals will be taken into unfamiliar areas. New poisonous plants may be eaten simply because the animal has no experience with them.
- Avoid driving animals through areas with high concentrations of toxic plants, particularly if they are hungry.
- When tying, picketing, or staking animals, identify and avoid areas where they are likely to consume toxic plants. If at all possible, find a place that is grassy, rather than leafy. Most, although not all, wild grasses are safe forage. [Be able to identify and avoid Triglochin maritima (known in most areas as Seaside arrowgrass) and Zigadenus spp. (commonly known as Death camases, but there are several other common names).]
- Do not assume that others know about poisonous plants. Feeding animals “treats” seems to be an almost irresistible urge of humans. Educate both adults and children who may come in contact with animals so that they know not to feed them leaves, fruits, etc. (This exercise will also alert children to the whole issue of poisonous plants. Many plants are at least as dangerous for children to eat as livestock.) Consider providing visitors with “official treats” that animals like and can safely eat.
- If animals are rented or lent to others, orient the temporary caretakers to toxic plants along with other instructions on care and handling. Provide plant identification resources to be taken along with the animals.
- When selling animals, ensure that buyers are aware of toxic plants. Consider providing pertinent materials to the new owners.
- Do not feed yard or garden vegetation (clippings or trimmings) to livestock.
- Try to arrange to walk uncut hay fields before buying and check hay when feeding. Buy grain and processed feeds from reputable sources.
- Consider removing toxic trees and shrubs in corrals, pastures, and yard that could be accessible to livestock. Of course, the urgency of this measure depends on the toxicity of the plants.
- Anticipate accidental circumstances such as leaves blown by wind or the fact that animals sometimes get loose.
- The safest course during Christmas and other holidays is to avoid feeding trees or other greenery to livestock. Although Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa pine, among other common names) is the most commonly referenced harmful member of the Pinus genus, other species and other conifers also may be toxic, especially if consumed in large quantities over a short period. Many common types of holiday decorative greenery can be deadly.
- Check branches and tree limbs brought down in pastures by storms to ensure that they are not from toxic trees.
- Keep an open mind and investigate other possible toxic agents to which a sickened animal may have been exposed, as well as the possibility that another type of illness may be involved.
- Plant poisoning is generally a complex medical situation and will probably require a veterinarian’s evaluation and care. The following may be helpful for livestock owners to keep in mind:
§ Establish a connection with a veterinarian before an emergency arises. Locate a practitioner familiar with your species of animal(s) and involve him or her in routine care.
§ Ask for information about any plants in the area that may already have caused problems. If other animals have been poisoned by local plants, there is a good chance that local veterinarians at least will be aware of that. They also may have some good advice to give you about prevention or response or both.
§ If you will be taking animals into a situation where veterinarian assistance will be difficult to obtain, ask your veterinarian to discuss some prudent actions to take in the event of poisoning. Always notify a veterinarian when plant poisoning is suspected. Be prepared to provide him or her with as much information as possible about the situation.
§ Discuss appropriate supportive/symptomatic care you may be able to provide to sick animals and be prepared to provide it until assistance arrives.
§ Try to identify any suspect plants. Get a sample.
§ Observe and make careful note of any physiological or behavioral signs the affected animal may exhibit.
§ Inspect the area where the animal was grazing. Try to determine the amount and duration of consumption.
© Copyright 1998-2014 by Shirley A. Weathers