Horses and …. Ragwort
Horses and …. Ragwort avatar

By | 12/05/2024

Horses and Ragwort

Ragwort is a dirty word for us horse owners, it can be the plague of our lives but when controlled effectively, dealing with it becomes just another annual job in the long list that goes with being an equestrian.

Jacobaea vulgaris, commonly known as ragwort, goes by various names such as stinking willie, tansy ragwort, benweed, St. James Wort, plus more.

Ragwort and Impact on Horses

Ragwort poses a serious threat to horses as it causes liver damage. This damage can occur rapidly if a large amount is consumed in a short period or gradually over time with intermittent ingestion. Research indicates that even small amounts, ranging from 0.15 to 0.5kg daily over 60 days, can be fatal. Although fresh ragwort may not be appetizing to horses, they may still consume it when forage becomes scarce, they usually have to be very hungry due it it’s bitter taste, especially towards the end of summer. Even when dried, ragwort remains poisonous, presenting the most significant risk if present in hay or haylage.
Liver failure resulting from ragwort poisoning is typically fatal, with symptoms often indicating irreversible damage by the time they appear.

Symptoms of Ragwort Poisoning in Horses

Initial symptoms of ragwort poisoning are subtle and may go unnoticed. Affected horses may exhibit a poor coat, weight loss, lethargy, and depression. Jaundice, although not always present, can manifest as yellowing of the gums and eyes. As the poisoning progresses, neurological symptoms may emerge, including excessive yawning, head pressing, altered behaviour, apparent blindness, and aggression, eventually leading to weakness and inability to stand.

Ragwort Control Measures

Eradicating ragwort from pastures can be challenging and may yield limited results. Ragwort is deep rooting and can regenerate from its roots if these are not completely removed but the invasion of clean pasture is primarily by seed. Seeds from the disc florets are carried up to 72.5 m by the wind.
The most effective method involves manually removing ragwort with specialized tools before it flowers to prevent seed dispersal. Once flowering occurs, uprooting the plant can exacerbate the issue by spreading seeds.
Alternatively, isolating affected areas and using herbicides that target ragwort while sparing grass can be effective. Citronella-based herbicides offer a safe and targeted solution. It’s crucial to wear protective gear while handling ragwort, as it is toxic to humans as well.

Preventing the spread of Ragwort

Verges adjacent to fields should not be overlooked, as ragwort may grow here too and collaboration with neighbouring landowners is essential to mitigate the spread of ragwort. If there are concerns about ragwort poisoning in horses, speaking to your veterinary professional for advice or assistance is advisable.

Advice from Gov.UK website is below with ideas for the stop of spread:

  1. spraying or wiping the plants with chemicals.
  2. pulling or digging out live, dead or dying plants.
  3. cutting back plants to prevent the seeds dispersing.
  4. burning plants using a spot burner.
  5. managing livestock so they do not overgraze and create bare areas where weeds can grow.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/stop-ragwort-and-other-harmful-weeds-from-spreading

Other sources of reading:

British Horse Society

https://www.bhs.org.uk/horse-care-and-welfare/health-care-management/pasture-management/the-dangers-of-ragwort/

World Horse Welfare

https://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/advice/ragwort-how-to-deal-with-it-in-a-horse-paddock#:~:text=Ragwort%20is%20poisonous%20to%20horses,large%20quantity%20in%20one%20go.

If ragwort is a serious problem on your land, it may be worth containing your horse in a restricted space until the field has been cleared. If you dont have another suitable area, a round pen would be ideal for this.

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