With the spring season in full bloom, you may notice that your pastures look as good as they have all year. It is important to maintain a healthy pasture by implementing best management practices such as rotational grazing to help maintain the health of your horse. We also need to mindful about what types of forage species are actually growing in the pastures; some species can be toxic to horses and other livestock.
One way to prevent horses from eating toxic plants that commonly occur in pastures is to make sure good quality forages are abundant. Horses will only eat toxic plants if that is all the pasture has to offer. This usually occurs when the pastures experience a season of drought or if they are overgrazed. At this time, the horse may look to the toxic plants in hopes of finding a new source of food.
Some toxic plants commonly found on pastures are: Alsike clover – looks similar to red clover but has no distinctive white markings on leaves as commonly found on red or white clover. Butter cups- small yellow flower with 5 petals commonly found on overgrazed pastures. Pokeweed – tall plant that produces clustered purple berries commonly found around fence lines. Jimsonweed – easily identified by its distinctive tree-like shape with white or purple trumpet like flowers, and prickly seed capsules.
Additionally, there is a variety of trees known to be toxic such as cherry, pear, peach, black walnut, and all maple trees. This list is by no means all-inclusive but should act as a good stepping stone into the world of toxic pasture plants. Remember, the key to maintaining healthy pastures is to implement best management practices whenever possible.
For more information regarding the health of your pastures please contact Penn State Cooperative Extension or the Monroe County Conservation District.