Don’t Let Spring Yard Cleanup, or Weeds, Kill Your Cows?

Stan Smith, OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County

A couple of recent calls reminded me it’s the time of year when lots of homeowners are outside trimming, pruning and generally cleaning up in the yard or around the farmstead. Most cattlemen are aware that some ‘trimmings’ can be toxic to cattle. Unfortunately, in an urbanizing state like Ohio, neighboring homeowners don’t always realize that vegetation they may consider to simply be “organic matter” or “feed” for some critters, may actually be poison to others. That’s one reason it behooves farm owners, and especially cattlemen to establish acquaintance with neighbors, sharing with them seasonal concerns.

Perhaps during this time of year, the greatest risk may come from those who need a place to discard their yew bush trimmings. As little as one half pound of yew trimmings, consumed by a 500 pound calf can be fatal. The most common symptom of poisoning from this evergreen ornamental bush is sudden death within 24 hours. Occasionally death may be precluded by respiratory difficulty, shaking or muscle weakness. There is no known antidote for yew poisoning, so prevention is critical.

In conversation recently with Jeff McCutcheon, he mentioned that he’s been seeing lots of cressleaf groundsel during his travels between Licking and Morrow Counties. You’ll likely recall that this plant is also toxic to livestock. We surmised that between the abundant seed that was shed from last year’s ‘crop’ of groundsel and the thinned stands that occurred in drought stressed pastures last summer, it’s been the ‘perfect storm’ that’s allowed the yellow flowers of groundsel to appear in abundance across some fields.

As spring progresses and plants continue their rapid spring growth, additional vegetation with the potential to harm livestock such as poison hemlock will leaf out and/or bolt. For more on identifying weeds in pasture or hay fields, or managing plants toxic to livestock, review the short presentations posted on the OSU Extension Beef Team YouTube channel.