Silage season 2018 is well underway, with the recent upturn in weather conditions providing the perfect platform for grass and plant growth.
Poisoning via plants found in farm pastures has become a problem in recent years, with over 140 animals killed in 2015 as a result. But what plants can be harmful to your livestock? What are the signs of poisoning? Keep reading below and find out!
A very common plant in most pastures, when ingested continually bracken can be very toxic. It can cause acute disease and even death in cattle when high levels are ingested. This usually occurs after the ingestion of younger bracken plants, which causes the suppression of bone marrow and loss of blood cells.
Livestock find the younger plants tastier and easier digested also, making them very dangerous. Bracken poisoning usually occurs in autumn months. Ingestion for prolonged periods can result in tumours in the bladders of older cows and even occasionally in the rumen and oesophagus.
Any cow affected by bracken poisoning will show signs of weakness, which will get progressively worse until death. When bladder tumours are present, blood will be found In the urine of cattle, while they will also suffer from chronic weight loss.
Treatments of bracken poisoning is generally unsuccessful, with prevention the easier option. This can be done through the use of herbicides prior to harvesting of silage, controlled burning or even fencing around areas where the plant is found.
We all know of this one, but do you know the real dangers? Ragwort poisoning is most common in the Autumn. This is when cattle are most at risk, due to poor grass growth and young plant shoots present on pastures.
One of the greatest risks of ragwort poisoning is when feeding cattle preserved grasses, silage and hay. This is due to preserved ragwort losing none of its toxins and losing its harsh taste due to drying. It does not just affect cattle but horses, chickens, pigs, sheep and many others also. It is caused by a toxin called Pyrrolizdine alkaloids.
It is crucial to spot this early. Early symptoms include weight loss, depression, loss of appetite, mild jaundice (yellowing of the skin) and an increased sensitivity to sunlight. As the poison is further digested into the system, symptoms can get more severe. This can lead to an animal circling, pressing their head against a wall, walking compulsively, extremely depressed and suffering from a slight loss of vision. An animal will be generally uncomfortable, uncoordinated and restless when suffering.
Other more serious signs include: Constipation, a dull coat, loss of condition, seizures and a coma. It generally causes liver damage and usually results in death. Development of disease can be delayed from four weeks to six months after the animal ingesting the plant. Different animals will have different susceptibilities to the toxin.
There are many varying ways to help prevent ragwort growth on your farm. The best way to prevent its ingestion by livestock is simply to prevent access to infected pastures. This is why fields should be checked regularly for signs of ragwort growth.
Grassland management holds one of the keys to fight this battle, whilst ploughing can also be used effectively, as does the improvement of land drainage. Other options include the use of herbicides, prior to harvest and should be used before April/May.
There is no real treatment for ragwort poisoning, again, it usually leads to death.
Water dropwort -
Another potentially toxic plant found in many pastures throughout the country. Also known as the water hemlock, livestock are most at risk to water dropwort poisoning when ditches have recently been cleared out and plants uprooted. This is because the root it the heart of the toxins in this plant.
There is no specific treatment for poisoning by the water hemlock and all stock should be immediately removed from a field where poisoning occurs. Signs include difficulty breathing, convulsions and the collapsing of animals soon after ingestion. The majority of infected animals die, though some do survive, with diarrhoea a sign of recovery.
Another poisonous plant which is found commonly in Ireland, is the Foxglove (Pictured below, bottom right). This is another which is also toxic to animals, pets and Livestock.
Yew Tree - (Top left in Below picture)
This is an ornamental tree found in some gardens. It is generally found in gardens surrounding older buildings and churches and exposure to it can result in rapid death. Ingestion also results in death. There is no cure or treatment, meaning you must be vigilant and ensure any pasture surrounding older buildings have no yew trees nearby.
Acorns from Oak trees produce the same result, severely sick livestock (See above picture - top right). This is usually a problem during autumn months, when disruptive weather knocks acorns onto pastures. Acorn poisoning, depending on the level of ingestion, is often fatal and damages the kidneys of livestock. There is no treatment, making prevention the key and death usually follows after 4-7 days of poisoning. To prevent any such incidences, stock should be moved from pastures which are nearby Oak trees, especially after stormy weather.
Take care this silage season, you can never be too careful!