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Ragwort has become a widespread issue for horse and donkey owners, as the plant, which commonly thrives on wasteland and road verges continues to spread to grazing land. Ragwort contains toxic compounds which cause liver damage to equines and other livestock animals, and in many instances can be fatal.
The yellow flowering plant acts as a cumulative poison, and can pose a real danger whether eaten in large quantities in a short period or in small amounts over a longer period of time. While horses and donkeys may instinctively avoid eating Ragwort, this is not always the case, particularly when grazing is sparse. It is just as toxic when cut and dried, since this is when the plant loses its bitter taste and will be even more palatable. Owners should be very aware of this plant both in pasture and baled hay/ haylage.
There are several methods for removing it and ideally this should be done in spring and summer before Ragwort is able to seed. If pulled by hand, gloves should be worn at all stages to ensure the handlerâ€™s health and safety
How to identify Ragwort
Ragwort has a number of different appearances, it is important that you familiarize yourself with each of the plants growth stages so you are able to stop and remove it as soon as possible.
Ragwort Rosette (Below)
This is the best time to pick Ragwort to avoid it spreading further once flowered. Rosettes can be found from early spring onwards and have a circular cluster of leaves with a ragged appearance, usually deep green on top and covered in a cottony down underneath.
Ragwort which has flowered in the summer (Below) -
Flowering occurs from May to late October.
Flowering ragwort can be identified by its mass of bright sunshine yellow daisy like flowers measuring 1.5 to 2cm across. A mature plant usually stands anywhere between 30 to100cm tall, but can sometimes reach 2 meters in height. The lower leaves, stems and roots may have a purple/red tinge. It is important to note that it is harder to identify young plants and those gone to seed.
How to I remove & control Ragwort
Ragwort can be managed although it is impossible to eliminate it forever, it is one of those tedious tasks which MUST be done to ensure your horse is not at risk. The key to controlling this weed is to regularly check your field and catch any rosettes before flowering.
The Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort, available from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), can provide further help. To eliminate the danger to your animals it is important to remove all potential sources of poisoning as quickly as possible and a control strategy must be employed.
Ragwort forks can be purchased in most country, agriculture & equestrian stores and garden shops. See how to use the fork below.
Ragwort can be disposed of a number of ways although the best method is to let the pulled plants wilt for a few days within enclosed paper sacks and then burn it.Alternate forms of disposal is to incinerate, rotting or composting it. If you are looking for further advice then it is best to contact Defra for guidance on disposal options.
Other things to look out for and remove from your horses field:
. Sycamore Seeds (Causes Atypical Myopathy Sycamore Poisoning in Horse)
. Acorns (If consumed in a high quantity can be fatal).