Is Rye Grass A Problem in a Paddock?
Letter: I was wondering if you could help? I have recently taken on a new paddock for my horse, some of which needs re – seeding. I have recently read that commonly used rye grass is actually not so good for horses and that modern day grazing lacks herbs commonly termed ‘hedgerow herbs’.
I have been thinking about planting some herbs etc., in and around my paddock. Can you advise as to what things would be good to include in my paddock?
Hope you are able to help
Answer: Ryegrass (Lolium spp.) is a common pasture grass of good nutritional value. The problem common to ryegrass, wild grasses, wheat and barley is Ergot (Claviceps spp.). Ergot is a fungal biotoxin found growing on grain or grass seeds especially during the late summer/early autumn months. Ergot constricts the arterioles supplying the tissues with fresh blood (vaso-constrictive) resulting in lameness, gangrene, dead tissue, abortion etc. Secondly, ergot can ferment into lysergic acid (LSD) under ideal conditions, (the LSD of the sixties was a derivative of ergot man made) which will cause hyperexcitability, convulsions and inco-ordination. Severity of symptoms will depend on the amount of infected grass seed ingested.
A way to overcome the danger of ergot infestation is to rotate grazing, so that your animals are always grazing on a section of the paddock with new grass growth, grass that has no flowering heads or seeds. Be vigilant about wild grasses around the edges of the paddock as they could be a source of ergot. It is a good idea to include in your re-seeding mix a good amount of the legumes such as clover, lucerne, trefoil etc., to reduce the overall amount of grasses susceptible to ergot.
Ergot cannot survive more than a season in the soil, cleansing of pastures can be done by ploughing the field up and leaving fallow for a year, or planting a non cereal crop.
Indigenous wild herbs with health giving qualities are chamomile, yarrow, dandelion, sheep’s sorrel, birds foot trefoil, cornflower. self-heal, wild pansy, eyebright, wild thyme, marjoram, marshmallow, ransomes (wild garlic) and cleavers.
Another suggestion is a hedge of wild rose, blackberry and hawthorn for browsing (all horses love picking out the young shoots in Spring and the fruit in Autumn). Horses know instinctively that Blackberry, Hawthorn and Wild rose contain health giving properties such as condensed tannins, flavonoids and Vitamin C. Recent research has shown that the small stomach worm Trichostrongylus spp. commonly found in horses and other ruminants, is banished by condensed tannins. Many small wild plants/hedgerow herbs will establish themselves along the perimeter of the hedge.
Invest in a comprehensive wild flower book such as Cassells Wild Flowers of Britain & Northern Europe from Amazon Books (illustrated on the right) This book has the advantage of illustrated plates showing families of similar plant species drawing attention to their similarities and differences which makes identification easy.