With spring on the horizon, the Sidmouth-based Donkey Sanctuary is reminding livestock owners of the importance of checking pastures and hay supplies for signs of ragwort, a common weed that poses a high risk of chronic liver failure to equines and bovines.
The Sanctuary recommends that from early spring onwards, donkey and horse owners should be regularly checking their animal’s grazing areas for ragwort at its rosette stage.
Faith Burden, The Donkey Sanctuary’s Veterinary Projects and Development Unit Manager says “Now is the optimum time for people to be checking for ragwort rosettes as pulling the plant before it flowers greatly reduces the spreading of seeds. Ragwort is extremely dangerous to donkeys, acting as a cumulative poison with even small amounts causing liver damage over a long period of time; unfortunately the damage may not be detected until it is too late.”
“Owners should also be closely checking the hay that they are feeding to their animals to ensure it doesn’t contain ragwort as it becomes much more palatable when dry.”
Ragwort can be recognised at its rosette stage by the clusters of leaves that are ragged and usually deep green on top and with a cottony down underneath whilst the lower parts of the plant may have a purplish/red colour. Bright yellow, daisy-like flowering occurs from May to late October.
The Donkey Sanctuary has these tips for controlling ragwort infestations:
- Always wear gloves when handling ragwort.
- Pulling needs to be done before flowering has completed.
- Ragwort is more easily removed when the plant is immature or after heavy rainfall when the ground is soft.
- Measures need to be taken for at least 2 years as ragwort is a biennial weed. Areas that have previously been heavily infested should be controlled yearly due to remaining seeds in the soil.
- Remove as much of the root as possible as ragwort can re-generate from root fragments. Pouring rock salt into the hole after digging helps to kill the remaining roots.
- Any pulled ragwort plants should be burnt to prevent further seeding.
Weedkillers and herbicides are available but it is important to remember that a single application will not eliminate an infestation due to overlapping generations of the weed.