2 Killer Weeds – Ragwort And The Groundsels
Ragwort poisoning in horses is an ever-present threat.
Ragwort – Jacobaea vulgaris
A biennial attaining a height between 60 to 100cms (2ft to 3ft 6inches), common ragwort can be found growing in dry grassland. Known in Scotland as ‘Stinking Willy’ referring to its foetid smell.
Ragwort and Groundsel are closely related both being members of the large Senecio family.
Their attractive yellow daisy flowers identify the Senecio family, flowering in the summer months between June and October.
Groundsel – Senecio vulgaris
An annual plant, shorter than Ragwort lacking the foetid smell, rich in toxic alkaloids, 30 to 38cms (12 to 15inches) in height. A weed that often emerges on cultivated land, dispersing its seeds in the wind.
Will Horses Eat Ragwort?
Under normal conditions when grazing is plentiful horses are less likely to eat Ragwort or Groundsel, as it is unpalatable.
During a dry summer or drought conditions in the early Autumn when grazing is scarce there is a real danger of Ragwort being grazed.
More worrying is the fact that drying preserves the dangerous alkaloids in Ragwort & the Groundsel family. They are just as dangerous dried in hay as when eaten fresh.
How Poisonous Is Ragwort?
Country women used Ragwort to induce abortions. The results were often fatal. Many a mare with a history of miscarriage on closer inspection had Ragwort growing in her field. This may seem unbelievable after all the publicity and articles about this killer weed.
More than 30 toxic factors have been identified in the Senecio species, these are mostly alkaloids with a pyrrolizidine base.
Grazed in large quantities they are fatal.
So, diligence is required as well as readiness with the ragwort fork. The Senecio family are also thought to cause cancer when grazed in small quantities, as they are extremely toxic to the liver.
Symptoms of Ragwort Poisoning In Horses
Horses showing signs of poisoning rarely recover.
These may not appear for several weeks or months unless large quantities have been quickly ingested.
Symptoms do not appear until a significant amount has been eaten.
This makes ragwort poisoning particularly dangerous as the poison aggregates and does not present until too late and the liver is failing.
Symptoms include staggering, unaccounted for outbreaks of colic, constipation with intense straining, diarrhoea, weight loss, depression, frenzied excitement and rapid pulse.
What should I Do If My Horses Has Eaten Ragwort?
Ragwort poisoning in horses cannot be dealt with using supplements and should be referred to a veterinary professional.
How To Get Rid Of Ragwort?
Fork or Chemical?
There is only one thing to do and that is to totally eradicate these noxious weeds from your land
In the UK there is an obligation, set out in a statutory code of practice, to prevent the spread of ragwort.
Digging and burning can be successful, but care must be taken that as the green material is burnt and the seeds are not left intact to disperse.
Wilted or dead plants left lying on the land to be eaten by the horses, defeats digging them out in the first place.
A ragwort fork is the most effective, and environmentally friendly, way to control ragwort as long as it is ensured the plant is fully removed.
There are a number of ragwort forks on the market, but the ones that work best are specifically designed for ragwort.
The prongs are exactly the right length to get to the roots and the horizontal bar just above the prongs gives good leverage. Ragwort can be really stubborn to remove if you don’t have the right equipment.
This is by far the most effective and eco-friendly was to reduce the risk of ragwort poisoning in horses.
There are environmentally friendly chemical sprays, specifically designed to kill ragwort.
Biotech manufacture an innovate citronella based product, “Barrier H” which is fast-acting and can be used at any stage of growth.
However, since 26th November 2015, it has been an offence to purchase pesticides authorised for professional use unless the required certificates are held.