Rangeland Ecology & Management

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Animal Health & Veterinarian Resources for Ranchers

Prevention of Toxic Plant Ingestion

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    The best way to prevent livestock losses due to poisonous plants is to prevent animals from eating too much of a particular poisonous species.  This may be challenging because livestock often graze on large landscapes with a large variety of species and it is highly difficult to keep livestock away from a particular poisonous plant.  Rather than eliminate contact with all poisonous plants, a more realistic strategy is to minimize the possibility of a large-scale livestock losses due to poisonous plants.

    Guidelines and strategies that help protect livestock:

    • Be able to identify poisonous species that grow in your area.  Plant identification is critical for planning and preparation.
    • Understand the conditions (i.e. temperatures, precipitation) that --Learn the conditions under which these plants can be dangerous to your livestock.
    • Create a grazing strategy that limits the time livestock spend in an area that has poisonous species.  Be aware that the timing of the grazing period may put livestock at risk.
    • Avoid moving overly hungry or stressed animals into an area where there is a large number of poisonous plants.
    • Ensure livestock have a sufficient quantity of water, salt and other supplements.
    • If poisonous plants are contained in a small area, treat undesirable species with herbicide or other eradication method.
    • Watch newly introduced animals carefully when poisonous species are present.
    • If livestock becomes sick, contact a veterinarian for diagnoses and to obtain treatment. 

    Training Livestock to Avoid Specific Forage - Sometimes a single plant prevents managers from grazing livestock in an area with good forage production. Often the plant has high agronomic value, like fruit trees, Douglas fir trees or grapevines. Livestock could easily graze fruit orchards, forest plantations or vineyards, improving fruit harvest and tree growth, if only they could be persuaded not to eat the trees or vines. In such cases, the key is to train livestock to avoid the food.

    There are very few treatments for livestock that ingest poisonous plants. Majority of poisonous plants have no known treatments for toxic exposure.  When a treatment is known, exposed livestock are regularly in isolated locations and are often not located in time to apply the proper treatment.  If an animal survives the initial exposure to a poisonous plant and begins to recover, treatment should aim to address symptoms (except in the case where a known treatment is available).