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Bad Plants For Cattle – What Plants Are Toxic To Cows

Bad Plants For Cattle – What Plants Are Toxic To Cows


By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Keeping cows is a lot of work, even if you have just a smallfarm with a herd of a few cattle. One of the potential pitfalls is letting yourcows into pasture where they could access and eat something toxic. There areplenty of plants cows shouldn’t eat, and if you are going to have any amount ofcattle, you need to know what some of these are. Keep reading to learn moreabout identifying plants poisonous to cattle.

Signs of Plant Poisoning in Cows

Not all plants poisonous to cattle will be lethal or makeanimals severely ill. It’s important to be on the lookout for any signs thatyour cows may have gotten into some toxic plants. Some are subtle, while othersmay be obvious:

  • Not eating at all or as much as usual
  • Losing weight
  • An overall unhealthy appearance
  • Muscle weakness
  • Failure to grow or develop normally

If your animals have any of these signs, there are alsoimportant indicators that the culprit is one or more poisonous plants. If your cowshave been in a new pasture area, where the forage has been recently fertilizedwith nitrogen, or it is early spring and grasses haven’t come in yet, theycould have gotten into some toxic plants.

What Plants are Toxic to Cows?

There are a number of toxic plants for cows, so it’s alwaysa good idea to find out which grow in your area and to regularly check fortheir presence in your pasture. Here are some common plants toxic for cows, soyou’ll need to remove these from pastures or anywhere they could have accessthem:

  • Black locust
  • Elderberry
  • Horse chestnut
  • Oak
  • Wild cherry, chokecherry
  • Arrowgrass
  • Bleeding heart
  • Buttercup
  • Dogbane
  • Foxglove
  • Iris
  • Jimsonweed
  • Monkshood
  • Lambs quarters
  • Lantana
  • Lupine
  • Larkspur
  • Locoweed
  • Mayapple
  • Milkweed
  • Nightshades
  • Pokeweed
  • Poison hemlock
  • Water hemlock
  • Sorghum
  • Tall fescue
  • White snakeroot
  • Any plants that have been over-fertilized with nitrogen

In addition to checking grazing areasfor bad plants for cattle, some other management steps can reduce poisoningrisk. Avoid letting cows overgraze areas, never turn cows into a new pasturewhen they are very hungry, provide plenty of clean water for cows, and fenceoff any areas that you know contain poisonous plants so cows can’t get to them.

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Poisonous plants and trees

The Donkey Sanctuary has produced this guide to keeping your donkeys safe from common poisonous plants and trees. Prevention is better than a cure when it comes to dealing with poisonous plants in your donkey's paddocks.

Before your donkeys graze any new pasture, check it thoroughly for the presence of toxic plants. A list of common poisonous plants is found in the guide available for download below, but this is by no means exhaustive. Please refer to one of the books/websites listed in the guide if you are not sure about plant identification or toxicity.

  • Poisoning is more likely to occur when grazing is sparse and your donkeys may be short of food (eg in conditions such as droughts or heavy snow falls or during dieting), they will be more inclined to eat any available foliage
  • Bear in mind that donkeys can stretch over fencing to reach plants/trees growing outside the field boundary such as your prize rhododendron or the yew tree they can only just reach. Also leaves, fruits and seeds from remote plants can blow into paddocks. Donkeys are also more likely to break out to gain access to gardens and woodlands where they will find all sorts of plants not normally available to them
  • Even when donkeys are turned out to pasture, always ensure they have access to suitable forage. We recommend providing barley straw so that there is always something to eat or a short chop product if your donkeys have poor dentition
  • Poor pasture management and overgrazing can lead to the predominance of poisonous plants such as ragwort and bracken
  • Some poisonous plants are bitter in the green (fresh) state but become sweeter if dried out (eg if sprayed with weed killer, pulled and left in the field or baled in hay). If you are pulling up plants always remove them from the paddock immediately. Always check each section of hay and remove any dried herbage that is unfamiliar to you
  • Thoughtless disposal of garden rubbish, such as hedge trimmings containing yew or privet, etc is the most common cause of sporadic cases of poisoning. Let your well-meaning neighbours know that any garden waste such as hedge clippings or grass cuttings are potentially fatal and should never be put in the paddock
  • If you take your donkeys for walks or to events make sure they cannot access poisonous plants. For instance yew is one of the most toxic plants in the UK and is commonly found in church yards, so if your donkeys are attending a Christmas Nativity they may attempt to snatch a bite
  • Some trees are quite safe for most of the year but need to be fenced off during the fruiting season. This includes all fruit trees, beech and oak trees
  • Never underestimate the ingenuity of donkeys. If they can escape they will and then you have no control over what they may eat. Check your boundaries regularly

Curiosity and boredom are key factors in the eating of unsavoury foliage and plant matter. Ensure good fencing and the provision of safe boredom breakers such as bramble, gorse or herb patches or cut branches from hazel, ash, hawthorn, apple, limited willow, alder, lime and poplar trees to minimise the risk (see our 'Safe trees and shrubs' page).


Rosary pea

CanerCakir / Getty Images

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This plant may sound pious, but it's actually deadly.   Rosary peas got their name from their traditional use as ornamental beads for rosaries. They are used in jewelry around the world. Many jewelry makers have died after pricking a finger while handling a rosary pea.  

The poison contained within the seed is abrin — a close relative of ricin and one of the most fatal toxins on Earth.  


Watch the video: Livestock Beware! Poisonous Plants