July 21, 2012
As the drought intensifies in Illinois, pasture conditions are rapidly declining. Available forage in many Illinois pastures is minimal at best. Producers that have implemented rotational grazing systems are in the best shape and still have forage available despite the lack of rainfall. Cattlemen that rely on continuous grazing are experiencing poor forage availability and a fair amount of these pastures are being overgrazed. The pastures in rough shape, especially the overgrazed pastures, could unfortunately bring to light the danger of poisonous plants. Producers need to be aware of poisonous plant species and ensure cattle do not consume them.
Many times poisonous plants reside in pastures and we see minimal harm from them. Much of this is due to availability of other forage that is more palatable. In a drought, cattle have consumed nearly all of those safe, more palatable forages. If other feeds or forages are not offered, cattle will be more apt to ingest poisonous plants. Poisonous plants don't become any more poisonous in a drought than normal. However, due to lack of forage availability there is an increased chance cattle will consume these plants.
In a brief discussion with Robert Bellm, U of I Commercial Ag Educator, he referenced a few potential suspects producers should be scouting for. "Some common poisonous plants that producers should scout for are white snakeroot and perilla mint. White snakeroot is a woodland pasture problem and perilla mint is commonly found in pastures" according to Bellm. Other plants producers should be looking for include common nightshade and poison hemlock.
The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine maintains a website that aids in identifying poisonous plants. Click here to view the listing.
You can also access a list of poisonous plants to livestock put together by MU Extension here