Buttercups in horse pastures (Animal Science Update)
‘Tis the Season’ for me to be getting a lot of questions regarding weeds in horse pastures and what can be done.
My column last month focused on “slobbering” horses due to the black patch fungus of clovers.
Now I will focus on anther commonly asked about weed: buttercups!
You can see them in fields from miles away! I know it is picturesque, with your horses surrounded by pretty bright yellow flowers, but the fact of the matter is they are a weed and they are toxic to horses.
You might wonder why your horses are not getting sick if they are so toxic?
That is a good question.
Buttercups can be toxic to livestock, but only when consumed in large amounts and have a white milky sap in the stems that is very bitter, making them extremely unpalatable.
Therefore, animals that are healthy, well-fed, and have access to plenty of good quality pasture or hay rarely consume buttercups.
The fresh leaves and flowers the buttercups are toxic when consumed fresh, but the plants lose their toxic properties when dried in hay.
If the plant is consumed in large enough quantities, horses will exhibit signs of severe gastritis, marked by increased salivation, decreased appetite, colic and diarrhea.
However, the key here is eating a large quantity and usually the only horses to do that are the ones that are left hungry with no other forage or feed available.
Examples of cases where this might happen would be a pony that is kept in a dry lot to keep from consuming too much grass, but not given enough hay.
They might pick at what forage is available, usually this means weeds.
So, make sure if you have a situation like this you provide the forage in a slow hay feeder to keep your horse eating what it should be for a longer portion of the day and is not tempted to graze on buttercups.
Or mow/spray these weeds in the dry lot to keep them from becoming tempting forage for the hungry little pony.
Buttercups are perennial plants that are very common in New Jersey and actually the entire Mid-Atlantic and Northeast region and are found in virtually all pasture situations.
They thrive in low fertility soils and in overgrazed pastures.
The best defense against buttercups, and all weeds for that matter, is to maintain a healthy stand of forage grasses.
Fertilizing grasses and rotating pastures to encourage the grasses to remain thick and healthy allows them to out-compete weeds by preventing bare spots. Frequent mowing will also reduce buttercup seed production.
Since buttercups are perennials, once they are heavily established in a pasture, it may be necessary to use an herbicide to remove them.
It may take several herbicide applications to reduce the population of buttercups.
Ally/Cimarron is a very safe and effective herbicide for controlling buttercups.
A combination of 2,4-D and Banvel can also be used to reduce buttercup populations.
Use herbicides only when necessary at the correct rate and time.
Read the complete label and follow all precautions listed.
For some of you maybe buttercups are not a problem but other weeds like narrow or broad leaf plantain, shepherds purse, thistle, curly dock or mustards are, but how do you know what you have or how to control them? A
gain, ideally you will be on a mowing plan that prevents any weeds from going to seed.
Once weeds go to seed they will be spreading millions of new seeds which can make your small weed problem a large one! If you need further assistance in identifying and controlling weeds in pastures, beyond just mowing, contact your local Cooperative Extension Office.
For a list of the county offices, visit https://njaes.rutgers.edu/county/.
You can also search our large list of pasture management publications on the NJAES website (https://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/) under Animal Agriculture and Horses. Some fact sheet titles include “Horse Pasture Management – Species Selection (#FS103),” “A Guide to More Productive and Nutrient Dense Horse Pastures (#FS1271)”, and “Poisonous Weeds in Horse Pastures (#FS938)”.
There are plenty of other topics as well. Hope you enjoy some educational summer reading!
Good luck and happy pasturing!