Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) is a poisonous weed which can cause liver damage in horses. The damage caused by ragwort is often not apparent until it is too late. Liver failure is an extremely unpleasant way to die and so it is essential that your pasture is kept free of this weed by keeping up with ragwort removal.
The Symptoms of Ragwort Poisoning
The effects of ragwort poisoning can build up over a period of time and horses may show no symptoms at all until they are fatally ill. Even small quantities of ragwort consumed regularly can result in serious liver damage. When symptoms do manifest themselves they are very distressing. Horses will become lethargic and behave strangely. They can develop inflamed areas of skin which look similar to sunburn. They may start to lose weight even though they are eating their usual volume of food. Eventually they will experience stomach pains, lose coordination and can go blind.
Horses and Ragwort
Ragwort is not very palatable and has a bitter taste but hungry horses may still choose to eat it. Dead plant matter remains toxic and is more palatable and so it is essential that this does not find its way into hay.
How to Identify Ragwort
Ragwort seedlings can start to appear between September and June. They have a spade shaped leaf which is notched. The plants develop into rosettes with leaves that have jagged edges. The leaves are dark green in colour and can be tinged with purple. The plants flower during the summer in the second year of growth. The heads are large and feature dense yellow flowers. After flowering the plants die off and the seeds can disperse easily in the wind.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Ragwort rosette[/caption]
If you discover a small number of ragwort plants you can remove them by hand. It helps if you use a ragwort removal fork and you should wear gloves. If your skin comes in contact with the plants then wash it immediately in soapy water. Both the plant and the root must be removed to prevent regrowth.
Larger areas of pasture or high numbers of young plants are best addressed with herbicides. Some of these products can only be applied by specialists.
Livestock must first be removed from the area to be treated. Choose a mild, dry day with no wind. Apply the herbicides according to the product’s instructions and do not return animals to the field until all ragwort has died down. This process of ragwort removal could take a number of weeks. Dead ragwort must be taken away as it remains toxic.
If you maintain good quality pasture you are less likely to be afflicted by ragwort as it thrives in poor conditions.
Mature plants are less susceptible to herbicides and may require mechanical pulling but must be tall enough to be extracted without disturbing the other vegetation in the field.
All ragwort material must be disposed of carefully. The best way to this is to burn it. Use closed containers to transport ragwort to prevent seed dispersal. If you have large amounts of material to deal with and do not have the facility to burn the plants then consult the guidelines for your options.
Ragwort control is an ongoing process and you should remain vigilante and remove any new plants as soon as they appear.