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Beware Buttercup Burn
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Beware Buttercup Burn

As the springtime advances, our horses are able to enjoy more time out in the fields enjoying the nutrient-rich spring grass and warm sunshine on their backs after a winter swathed in rugs.  Many fields are also full of buttercups.  Although the bright yellow blooms are beautiful to look at blazing against the vivid green, they can spell trouble for our horses.

Buttercup Danger

Buttercups fall within the ‘ranunculus’ species of plants which also includes marsh marigolds, spearwort and crowfoot.  They contain the substance glycoside ranunculin which creates ‘protoanemonin’, an unpleasant irritant.  All domestic animals are at risk of protoanemonin poisoning, especially horses.

Luckily, buttercups do have an unpleasant bitter taste which does turn horses off from eating them, but when faced with a field crammed full of the plants, it can be difficult for a grazing horse to avoid them altogether.  When the plants are flowering in the springtime is the most dangerous time as this is when the concentration of protoanemonin is at its highest.

When the plants are dried out, their toxicity is lost so buttercups eaten in hay are not poisonous to your horse.

Signs of Buttercup Burn Poisoning

There are a number of warning signs horse owners should look out for that could indicate buttercup burn poisoning.

  • drooling and excessive salivating
  • problems eating and ulceration of the tongue and mouth
  • facial swelling
  • blistering of the skin around the lips
  • colic
  • diarrhea
  • discolored urine
  • loss of ordination and staggering
  • impaired vision and hearing loss
  • convulsions

Whilst buttercup poisoning itself is rarely fatal, it can cause death if the horse or pony is unable to eat for any length of time.

Getting Rid of Buttercups

Buttercups are an extremely invasive plant that’s hard to get rid of entirely.  They thrive in poor quality soil and do particularly well in fields that are not managed properly.  Chain harrowing your fields helps to break up the plant’s runners and stops them spreading, whilst aerating the soil and draining it will also reduce numbers. 

There are weed killers that will kill buttercups, but be aware that the plants are more palatable to horses following herbicide treatment and this is commonly when poisoning occurs.  Pastures should be allowed to rest for at least two weeks before turning horses out on them again.

 

Image sourceflickrcommons

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