Buttercups are a common flower in New Jersey pastures. Did you know they are poisonous to horses when consumed? Above is a picture of what they look like in early spring. Photo from Rutgers Fact Sheet # 938; Poisonous Weeds in Horse Pastures.
April showers bring spring flowers! Flowers may be pretty, but not in your pastures! Do you know what is growing in your pasture that might be poisonous to your horse?
Good horse owners know what is growing in their pastures and take the proper steps to make sure their horses are safe. According to Rutgers Fact Sheet Poisonous Weeds in Horse Pastures, following the steps below will help you protect your horses from unwanted plants that pop up in your pasture every spring:
- Inspect your pastures – Take a walk, observe what is growing and do this at least once every season. Different plants bloom and look differently in each of the growing seasons. If you see something that does not look like “grass”, “hay” or normal pasture plants, take a picture with your phone so you can go to one of the websites listed below to help identify the plant. Don’t forget to look 3 to 4 feet beyond your fence because horses always think “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” In addition, some trees have toxic effects on horses when their parts are consumed. See the fact sheet on Poisonous Weeds listed above; it is a great place to start.
- Manage your pastures properly – pastures that are properly maintained, accurately fertilized (starting with a soil test), regularly watered, reseeded when necessary and not overgrazed, will not allow toxic weeds to grow. Since these conditions may be difficult to control in New Jersey weather, you must walk your pastures every season and try to rotate pastures when you can. For important information about managing your horse pastures, please see the Rutgers publication, Establishing and Managing Horse Pastures.
- Identify plants that are not meant to be there – look them up and eliminate them from your pastures. If you do not know the name and only have a picture, try the New Jersey Weed Gallery. Cornell Cooperative Extension also has a great searchable web site with lots of helpful photos, if you know the plant’s common or scientific name.
How about a fun activity for your Equine Science or Horse Club? Gather some supplies; reference books, magazines, index cards (we like 8.5 x 5.5-inch ones), computers (or smartphones), glue sticks, pencils and pens. Have each of your members pick a poisonous plant to research. Members can add information and/or pictures to their card. Do this for all kinds of topics and store your information on cards in a traveling file to use at Equine Science events or meetings. Whenever you have a few free minutes at a meeting, members can pick a card from the deck and learn something new about caring for their horse.
Alternately, print out one thumbnail picture of the 6-12 most common poisonous pasture plants in New Jersey pastures. Use 3x 5-inch index cards and have each member make their own poisonous plant card deck. To make a deck, have members cut out each picture and place it on one side of the card. On the other side, have members use the provided resources to add important information about the plant in the picture. They can review their card decks for the next equine science event or carry them as they walk their pastures.
By Carol Ward, Somerset County 4-H Agent and Mary Howard, Gloucester County 4-H Volunteer, Rutgers Cooperative Extension