When driving down a country road in recent days, you will have no doubt seen fields lit up with the yellow of an abundance of buttercup plants.
Although to most it may seem like a harmless addition to a pasture, it can in fact be dangerous to stock, not to mention it creates extra competition for light, nutrients and water needed for silage crops to flourish and thrive.
If consumed in high doses, the buttercup plant or Ranunculus can be toxic to livestock. It is however rarely eaten by livestock, that is unless there is very little forage available to them. It affects horses, cows, sheep, goats and even dogs!
Its toxin comes from a chemical reaction which turns the enzyme ranunculin into the poisonous oil protoanemonin. The plant is at its most toxic when in the early stages of flowering, generally from April to August. Every part of the plant is toxic to stock, the shoot, the flowers and the seeds.
Generally, livestock do not find the buttercup plant palatable, though it becomes tastier when the plant begins to decay.
The effects of buttercup poisoning can vary from mild to moderate, depending on the quantity ingested.
The main symptoms of buttercup poisoning is oral and gastrointestinal irritations, though there are other signs. These include, drooling, Diarrhoea with blood, urine with a tinge of blood, a loss of appetite, low pulse rate, skin twitching and even convulsions in extreme cases. The faeces of the animal should also be more foul smelling than usual, if the plant was ingested.
If harvested in hay or silage, these effects can be nullified, which is why the plant does not present a huge danger in fields to be used for silage. This is because the drying process rids the plant of its toxicity. That is not to say, it shouldn’t be avoided if at all possible.
Not only does it effect stock, but also other plants in pastures. As mentioned above, the buttercup provides needless competition for light, food and water for your grass crops. If last Winter is anything to go by, every blade of grass is important, therefore the less competition for growth the better!
Control and treatment -
There are many methods to prevent the abundance of buttercups in pastures, such as spraying.
The best control method is obviously grassland management. Ensuring your soil is fertile and not lacking in phosphorus, potassium or nitrogen will go a long way in controlling a buttercup plague from taking over. Ensuring the soil pH is correct is also important, especially for grass plant growth.
Overgrazing and the poaching of grazing platforms should be avoided, as this gives the plant a vibrant chance of thriving.
Otherwise, the best control is through the use of herbicides, though one should be careful when using herbicides. The best time to spray for the pest is usually between February and April, according to Teagasc, to ensure silage platforms have ample time. This is when the plant is still young and actively growing. Spraying during this period will ensure you can eliminate from 80 to 100% of the plant. Spraying after flowering occurs will require extra herbicide and will NOT prevent seed formation.
The ploughing and reseeding of land is also an option, though one for those looking at the long-term and willing to spend.
Sample Herbicide combination (recommended by Teagasc)
MCPA, 2,4-D (e.g. Mortox 50/MCPA 50/Croplink 50).( Note -Seedling white clover and red clover in the pasture will be killed by these herbicide products).
There are of course many products available which primarily focus on buttercup management, though we will leave you to find them for yourself. They may be pretty and bring colour to your pastures, but watch out for the Buttercup this summer.