The Donkey Sanctuary recommends that during July and August, donkey and horse owners should be regularly checking their animal’s grazing areas for ragwort as it begins to flower during these months and spreads harmful seeds.
Faith Burden, The Donkey Sanctuary’s Veterinary Projects and Development Unit Manager says, “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.”
Although Ragwort must be pulled in its early stages and burnt, it can be treated with weed killer or herbicide in the flowering stage if spotted too late, but it is important to remember that a single application will not eliminate an infestation due to overlapping generations of the weed. When ragwort is first noticed consider employment of a short-term measure to get rid of existing plants, followed by long-term measures, and improved management to prevent re-infestation. Control needs to be ongoing and combined with good pasture management.
Faith Burden advises: “The first application of weed killer should be made as soon as possible before frost damages the foliage. In either case a further application should be made in late April the following calendar year. Apply in mild weather when the vegetation is dry and rain is not expected for at least five hours. To avoid wastage and drift, spray on a calm day. All paddocks should be sprayed at the same time to avoid infestation from adjoining paddocks.”
“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 flowering stage by purplish/red colour rootstock, basal leafstalks and lower parts of the stem but brighter green and branched above the middle. Bright yellow, daisy-like flowering occurs from May to late October and a mature plant can reach between 1-2 metres in height.