Poisonous plants on the pasture

During the summer months, cattle are kicked out to pastures. Pastures are blooming and so are many toxic plants. Here are some plants that can be toxic to cattle livestock specifically;

Water Hemlock:
Water hemlock is one of the most common plants in Canada. It is frequently found in wet environments and pastures along streams or banks. Small amounts of the toxin in this plant can kill cattle. The amount of toxin present in the seeds and leaves varies but is highest in spring and late summer (autumn to early winter). The toxic agent, cicutoxin causes violent seizures and respiratory paralysis leading to death.  The most common findings seen with Water Hemlock is cattle found dead in pasture, often with evidence of struggling (thrashing/seizing). Unfortunately, there is no treatment for water hemlock toxicity in cattle and prevention is best.
Water Hemlock can be confused with water parsnip (not toxic) as they look very similar.

Bluebonnet (Lupines):
Bluebonnet’s commonly grow in the foothills and mountain ranges. Normally, cattle will not eat excessive amounts of this unless there is lack of other feed source or if pastures are too mature
or dry. The toxic property in Lupines are alkaloids and the plants become more toxic during the late summer. It can cause various signs of poisoning, such as increased salivation/frothing at the mouth, and effects on the brain (depression or excitation). The main issue lupines cause are birth defects seen in calves from heifers/cows that have ingested it during early pregnancy. Common birth defects include cleft palate and leg deformities also known as “Crooked calf syndrome”. There is no known treatment for Lupines except removing cattle from the source or removing plant from pasture.

Buttercup is usually found in crops, pastures, and along lakes/rivers. The toxic product in buttercup is activated when ingested by cattle or other grazing livestock causing irritation and blistering of the skin, mouth and throughout the digestive tract. Clinical signs of toxicity are increased salivation or foaming. If a severe toxicity occurs, seizures and death may be noticed. Tall buttercup that is found in hay is not toxic as the toxin decomposes during the drying process of hay making it safe to ingest for cattle. Cows ingesting hay contaminated with buttercup may have a reddish colour of milk giving it an unpleasant taste to their calves. Treatment is attained by removing them from the source. Prevention of tall buttercup is achieved by good pasture management through promoting healthy grass by fertilizing and not overgrazing pastures.

Larkspur is found in mountain valleys at high elevation. This plant grows rapidly with increased soil moisture. Tall/short Larkspur is very tasty to cattle making toxicity more common. The toxic substances, various types of alkaloids, are found in all parts of the plant, including the stem, leaves and flower. The clinical signs of cattle with toxicity are muscle paralysis (staggering, stumbling, recumbency) leading to respiratory failure, bloat and eventually death within as little as 15 minutes. Cattle suspected with larkspur should not be worked or stressed as excitement/exercise intensifies signs of poisoning. Sheep are less susceptible to larkspur as their bodies can tolerate higher levels of it. Like many other plants, there is no treatment for larkspur toxicity and prevention is key with avoiding exposure and herbicide treatment.

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