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Weed/grass question.
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Trace
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 Posted: Wed Jun 9th, 2010 06:50 pm
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What weed/grass could cause a horse's tongue and whisker hairs to turn black?

I'm in Central CA, and my pasture isn't irrigated. There is one area that is shaded, so the grass has lasted a bit longer there than in the rest of the pasture. The horses grazed there two days ago.  When they came up to their pens, all had black tongues and whisker hairs.

Thanks to your CD, Dr. Deb, I have found that there is capeweed and flatweed in the pasture. Would either of those be the culprit?

The horses have been moved to the dry lot paddock, and there they will stay until I can get the pasture restored. But now my curiosity has been piqued.

Thanks!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 04:07 am
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Dear Trace: Well, I had to look this one up not only in my library of poison plant references but also through a couple of veterinary websites, just to make sure we aren't likely to be dealing with a disease here. What makes that very unlikely is that the whiskers are blackened too....this has to be because the horse has dipped his muzzle into something.

It also means, in all likelihood that whatever he got into was tarry and wet. You say you don't live on the Gulf Coast....

But -- do you live in Kern County, California, where there are oil seeps?

Have you recently applied creosote or tar to your fences, as to stop horses from chewing the wood?

Has a handyman or your husband been changing the oil in tractor, car, truck, or boat, and dumped the old oil out on the ground in the pasture?

Have you recently had workmen out to paint the barn? And they might have left a bucket of dark-colored paint around open, or spilled some of it?

That's what I can think of in the "non plant" category....as to "plants":

Do you have wild raspberries, blackberries, or juneberries on your property?

How about elderberries?

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)?

Is that shade you say you have in the pasture from Mulberry trees? (high likelihood that this is the culprit at this time of year)

Mulberry is especially likely -- mulberry and native cottonwood being just about the only kinds of trees that will grow in the Central Valley wild, without help from irrigation. Plus, horses absolutely love the taste, not only of the berries but leaves and twigs, too. And as you probably know, the berries stain a dark purple very readily.

Luckily and happily, mulberry is absolutely not toxic to either humans or horses. In fact, if I had a pasture that needed more shade, or wanted shade around my riding arena, mulberry would be my no. 1 choice here in the Central Valley. The trees grow fast and put forth an almost incredible density and profusion of branches and leaves. You DO have to keep them pruned, though, and you need to start that young if possible, or else the tree may start splitting up on you. I've seen mulberry trees that were thirty feet high, but that weren't properly pruned, split right smack down the center of the trunk. However if they are pruned well, they make very nice trees.

You've got two choices if you decide to plant them deliberately: FREE saplings, which you get by digging up the "volunteers" which will sprout all over the place from bird poop; and COSTLY saplings, which you buy at the garden shop. The latter have the advantage that they are (supposed to be, and usually are) non-fruiting. A six-inch-high volunteer sapling will grow into a tree 20 ft. high in three years, if irrigated; if not irrigated, it will take 8 years to do the same.

If you've got mulberry trees loaded with ripe berries, pick a pint for yourself, wash them, and then enjoy them over a scoop full of vanilla ice cream. Pretty good treat at the end of a long hot day. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Jean in Alaska
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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 10:34 am
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My first thought was Tar Weed? I have hear about horses coming in with sticky black stuff n their legs and face from Tarweed. But I don't know anything about plants in any part of California.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 11:39 am
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Jean, "tarweed" is Amsinckia intermedia, otherwise known as "fiddleneck". Despite its name, it does not have particularly sticky sap, and does not leave black sticky stuff on livestock.

Another thought that occurred to me, though, is that Trace might have Dallis grass (Paspalum sp.), or a rat-tail or dropseed grass (Sporobolus), either of which might be sprouting ergot. Even more likely because it is common in low spots in the Central Valley (i.e. Kesterton) is the wheatgrass Leymus triticoides -- highly susceptible to ergot infestation, as I show quite graphically in the Poison Plants book.

We have had an unusually long, cool, wet spring here in the Central Valley, and although great amounts of ergot are not often a problem here, it could be that Trace has a low-lying pasture where it could occur. Fescue (Schedonorus sp.), Ryegrass (Lolium sp.), grain rye (Secale cereale), and grain wheat can also harbor it.

Ergot forms a black, tarry, sticky coating on the surface of the host plant. The tarry substance is actually composed of the fruiting bodies, which are tiny pods produced by the fungus. In addition, at a slightly earlier stage in its development, the ergot fills the grain heads with sticky yellow goo. Both the goo and the tarry stuff will certainly stick to horses' faces and muzzles -- can entirely coat them -- and in fact anytime this is seen on livestock an ergot infestation should be looked for.

If ergot is what this turns out to be, then Trace, you need to get the animals off that pasture absolutely immediately. Ergot is deadly poisonous, and part of its toxicity is that it is hallucinogenic. Expect horses that have gotten into it to be hypersensitive, spooky, and showing unpredictably defensive/aggressive behaviors such as bucking, striking, and kicking.

Do write back to let us know what you discover. I hope it's mulberries. -- Dr. Deb

Trace
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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 01:48 pm
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Dr. Deb, Thank you...

A little background. We are in Stanislaus County. We just bought this property in December.  It had been empty for 3 years, and when we moved in, I made a few changes and divided the large pasture into 3 separate paddocks.  The pasture is not irrigated, and it is comprised of pretty much nothing but weeds. The whole property is sloped to the North and South, with the house and horse pens on the top of the property. They are turned out after breakfast, brought in around 3 for the night. I allow the horses to graze, but the pasture isn't their source of food.

The larger pasture, the pasture in question, faces north. Along the western perimeter fence there are junipers (slated to be pulled this fall) and sweet gum trees. At the southern fenceline, about 30 feet away IS a mulberry tree. But, unfortunately for the horses, none are within the reach of the fence line. But, that leaves plenty for me! 

It is only in this larger pasture that I see the black muzzle hairs and tongue, and this only started in the past few weeks, after the last freak rain we had. I first saw it one evening when I brought the horses up for the night.  They all had runny stool, so I left them in their pens all day. When I turned them out the next day,  I shut all the gates and kept them off the larger field.

I spoke with a neighbor over the fence and was told that the horses who were turned out here before we bought the property would have that.  It was "just the tarweed"

On Monday, I wanted to harrow the smaller field where they are now, so I turned them out in the larger pasture. When they came back over to the smaller field a few hours later, all three had black tongues and black whiskers. So, they are off the pasture for good, until I can find someone to help me (for lack of a better word) reclaim it.

Yesterday, I mowed the large pasture, and this morning I went out  with a magnifying glass and started looking at the grasses that I couldn't reach with the mower.   What I found pretty much scared me.  I've spent the last 3 hours reading Folder 2, Dr. Deb. If you look at pg 256 of Folder 2, that's what I'm seeing. I have a leymus triticoides sample that looks very similar to the picture. It did come from the lower part of the pasture, where there would have been water run-off and dappled shade from the gum trees. But, today, it looks dried out, not sticky.


Luckily, no symptoms in the horses other than a bit of tummy upset, which resolved overnight. I'm going to call my vet back to see what, if anything, I should do for them.
And, now I need to figure out the pasture....

I'd much rather it had been mulberries!

Jean in Alaska
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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 04:03 pm
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When I googled tarweed this came up: from UC Davis
http://cecalaveras.ucdavis.edu/tarweed.htm
"Yellow tarweed is a native plant that is well adapted to the hot dry foothill summers. Tarweed’s summer growth is sometimes tall and sticky. It is not palatable to livestock, hides forage needed by livestock and coats the faces and legs of livestock with a tarry resin."

Is this the same as Fiddleneck? The article didn't give a scientific name.

Last edited on Thu Jun 10th, 2010 04:07 pm by Jean in Alaska

Trace
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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 04:24 pm
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Jean,

Here's a link to a picture of what I'm being told is tarweed.  It is what I have always called "fiddleneck". 

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amsinckia_lycopsoides 

I don't find it particularly sticky, nor does it stain anything black. But more than one cowboy in the area told me that's my problem. Fortunately, none of my horses bother with it.

Thanks for the thoughts, though.

Jean in Alaska
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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 04:56 pm
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Thanks,
I guess I always associated the name "Fiddleneck" with Fiddleneck ferns, which are a delicacy in South-East Alaska, steamed with butter! LOL I had heard about Tarweed and the mess it made on horses legs in some areas. None of that up here in Interior Alaska.

Jean in Alaska
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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 05:22 pm
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OK, I guess it is FIDDLEHEAD ferns! Not fiddleneck! Well, I DID get the Fiddle part right!

Last edited on Thu Jun 10th, 2010 05:23 pm by Jean in Alaska

Trace
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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 05:30 pm
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Hah!  I love to eat fiddleheads, too!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Jun 11th, 2010 01:09 am
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OK, Trace, very good. Your horses are pastured not very far from my own, so I know precisely what array of weeds you've got. As an interesting side-note, look in today's (June 10th) Modesto Bee, in the Op/Ed section, and you'll see my letter to the editor on the subject of horse pasture management and poisonous plants -- my letter having been stimulated by a lovely photo that the Bee printed several days ago in the "local" section, showing two horses grazing in a field thick with buttercups. The problem being that buttercups, for all they are nostalgic and bucolic, are also poisonous to horses!

If you're getting runny stool along with the black faces and tongues, I think you're extremely wise to keep the horses out of that pasture for the time being. And let me tell you, your neighbors don't know much -- don't listen to 'em, please. They mean well but they don't really know what they're saying. You might show this transmission to them, in fact, so that they can learn the true facts about these plants too.

Let's take the scenario you report for your pasture one factor at a time.

1. We do get tremendous blooms of fiddleneck in the spring here. It will grow so thick that it looks like something being intentionally cultivated. Some farmers are so ignorant of the dangers of this plant, that they will cut it and bale it as "yellow flowered alfalfa," and some other farmers are dumb enough to buy the stuff, or to buy first-cut alfalfa that is heavily infested with it. Wise ranchers know to keep their livestock off the stuff until a month after the rains stop and the fiddleneck has died down and better grass has had a chance to come up. As you will know from looking it up in the PP book, fiddleneck is deadly poisonous. It is a "PA" plant, i.e. contains pyrrilizidine alkaloids, which kill liver cells and which cannot easily be metabolized out of the animal and/or excreted in feces and urine. Ultimately you will find that horses (or cows) that eat fiddleneck become photosensitive, i.e. they get what people call "mud fever" or "scratches". But as you also know from reading the PP book, these problems are not (as many of our local vets believe) caused by fungi or idiopathic allergies. They are caused by the alkaloid toxins which are killing the horse's liver. When enough of the liver has been destroyed, the animal will start teetering on the edge of liver failure, and that's when they start showing "scratches". It is true that "scratches" can look like an allergic reaction. If you take a swab from the reddened, sore, weeping places, there is a 100% guarantee that the culture will show up fungi and/or bacteria that adventitiously take advantage of the weakened skin. But they are absolutely NOT the cause; the PA poisons are the cause. If you stop the horse from eating those, and you do it in time, the horse will recover and you'll have no further trouble with "scratches".

2. As to ergot: it's been about three weeks since that last storm, but the dry wind we've had since then does not stop ergot from developing. It needs the moist conditions to infect the plants, but after that, the ergot is "encysted" in yellow or black cases. The spores ripen within the cysts, and it's when the cysts start to burst open that you get the black powder sticking to the horses' faces. Please go look and make sure you don't have Dallis grass or any other type of Paspalum (good pictures of it in the PP book): this is not an uncommon pasture plant in this area, though you can certainly also get volunteer dropseed (Sporobolus) and the wheatgrass (Elymus triticoides). I have already explained the dangers of ergot: it contains alkaloid toxins related to lysergic acid, i.e. LSD. And you can read aloud the old rhyme to your neighbors for their entertainment and edification:

Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her father forty whacks.

And when she saw what she had done,

She up and gave him forty-one.

....Lizzie hallucinating, that is, from having been noshing on the old ergot-infested rye bread.

3. Now as to pasture rehabilitation. You have already discovered that just about every plant that volunteers in the soils of our area is more or less noxious to horses. Some are so sour that, for the most part, horses don't eat them -- stuff like sheep sorrel or dock, mustards, telegraph weed, and nettles. However, if horses have little or nothing in a pasture that is good for them to eat, they will indeed eat damn near anything. So you figure you give them hay in the morning before you go off to work, and that holds them until around 9 a.m. Then you come back at 5 and maybe you get them fed by 7 p.m. But what are they doing between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.? And overnight? It is a guarantee that they are, at least to some extent, munching on weeds, because a horse is hard-wired to do SOMETHING with its lips, tongue, and mouth at least 12 hrs. per day, every day.

My own gelding Oliver provides an excellent example of this. Because he is diabetic and his diet must be 100% controlled, with no free pasture time, he lives in a dry lot in which there is absolutely nothing growing. But this leads to boredom, of course. So he eats his morning hay and then what's to do? His favorite entertainment is to go play in his water tank. The barn manager cannot keep a float in there, because as soon as the float appears Ollie makes a great game of pulling it out of the tank. So the barn man goes and puts it back and twenty minutes later, Ollie has pulled it out again. Too bad horses never figure out how to put stuff BACK. Having learned this, on my to-do list is to get Ollie a couple of play-balls, the kind with handles, because I think he actually will play with them. Think I'll put them in his water tank to begin with.

Now, Ollie does get some hand-grazing time, and this gives the opportunity to observe closely what his own choices have been since it's quit raining and the grass is getting dry now. Given a choice among our local weeds, Ollie will eat/sample them in the following order:

Thistle, flowering head (very sweet-tasting)

Alfileria ("Fillaree", called in the U.K. and other British Commonwealth countries "storksbill")

Evening primrose

Plantain

Hawkweed

Mallow

Barley grass, dried up and prickly so that the awns get stuck in his lips, tongue, and gums


Sandbur, leaf; he tries to spit the prickly heads out (not very easy, so they also get stuck in his gums and tongue, not to mention getting balled up in his mane and tail).

Thistle, prickly stem and leaf

Nettle

....horses have to be very, very hungry before they'll go after mustard or sorrel, for they are very bitter -- nonetheless, I've seen other peoples' horses do it. And, you understand, although all the items (except fillaree) in the above list are problematic -- most concentrate oxalates -- in small doses, such as you might get in hand-grazing, they aren't going to hurt the animal. The exception is thistle; if it is a kind that has large purple flowers, or leaves mottled with white, it is benign. If it has multiple small purple flowers, or yellow flowers, it is very poisonous, and I wouldn't let Ollie touch that stuff even as part of an effort to learn what his preferences are.

So this is the survey of "what's out there now". The next part, of course, is to decide what to do in the way of overseeding and cultivating. You are going to need a type of grass, or more than one type, that is non-problematic, that is drought-tolerant, that is at least moderately productive, that stands up to trampling and traffic, and that will grow in your soil. As to soil, if it's red-colored you're on the Modesto formation; if it's a pure, fine light-yellow sand it's the Delhi Sand (in Stanislaus County, only found near Turlock). If it's a gray-brown sand or clayey sand with a certain amount of "sparkle" in it, you're in the eastern part of the county on the Merton Formation (the sparkle comes from volcanic ash content). The crucial factor is how much clay content you have -- the Merton will have the most, the Delhi sand the least. The more clay you have, the more choices you have because the soil will hold water better. If you don't have irrigation access, then I sure do hope you have a good well, because there is no way to grow or maintain any type of pasture grass unless you water it at least once every two weeks between the time in the spring when the rain stops and the time in the fall when it starts again.

As to what type of grass: the universal no. 1 choice in our area for horse pasture is bermuda grass. This is an excellent choice all around, and I would make that the foundation or main constituent. The main problem with bermuda is that is can be hard to get started; you absolutely do have to dampen it, and keep it damp, for the first two weeks after you seed it out.

Along with bermudagrass I would plant a good form of brome, either Bromus inermis (Smooth Brome) or else Bromus rubra (Red Brome). Red Brome volunteers in our area. Cheatgrass and "long awn grass" is also brome, and also volunteers everywhere, but you want to get rid of that. The types of Brome that you want have short, soft awns, not the long stiff ones that get in horses' ears, eyes, and tongues (and also stab you through your socks). All types of Brome grass put forth a heavy, "meaty" sort of leaf and are highly nutritious and palatable. They are only problematic if your horses are founder-prone, because they do pump the sugars up after a rain or after being irrigated.

If it were my own place, I would also look into where I could get seed of velvetgrass. This is an old-fashioned choice, and the palatability to the horses is less. However, it is also totally non-problematic, and once the horses adapt to the taste they will eat it just fine. Our grand-daddies used to prefer velvetgrass -- Yosemite is full of it because cattle used to be pastured up there before it became a national park. It is as productive and nutritious as brome and at least as drought-tolerant.

Another grass I would absolutely love to have in horse pasture is what is called "brown top", that is Agrostis sp. Again, a normally non-problematic, old-fashioned grass that is durable, easy to establish, nutritious, and drought-tolerant.

One final thing I'd certainly put in my own custom "seed mix" for the local pasture would be crabgrass (Digitaria sp.). We all know that crabgrass will take over a lawn! But the bane of the manicured lawn is a blessing in a dry pasture. The stuff will grow anywhere, is very productive in terms of tons-per-acre, can be cut to make very good hay, and horses readily eat it. It is completely non-problematic and should be used far more often in horse pasture than it is.

Now, Trace, let me warn you: when you go down to the county ag. advisor's office, or you go to the feed and farm store, and you start asking them for this seed mix, they are going to tell you that you're out of your mind. They are going to look at you like you're nuts. And what they are going to try to sell you instead will be ryegrass and red clover, or some form of fescue (especially fescue "with the 'myco advantage' " as it says on the bags at Home Depot). But "the myco advantage" means that the fescue has been innoculated with endophytic fungi -- exactly what you must keep OUT of any horse pasture. And you must also absolutely reject any type of clover -- they are going to tell you that you need to have it to cooperatively nourish the grass. What none of these folks understand is that red clover, white clover, alsike clover, black meddick, birdsfoot trefoil, or any other type of clover or legume is a danger to horses.

I am warning you also, Trace, that I've heard from other women that they go to the ag. advisor or the seed and feed man, and they make very clear to him that they do NOT want any clover in the mix, and they do NOT want ryegrass or fescue, and the guy goes ahead and puts it in anyway and later says he only did it because he was 'doing you a favor.' But it's really because he does not listen, he does not believe, and he does not, fundamentally, have any respect for you. Now I can help you a little since you are right here in Stanislaus County. You go to my friend Marit Aranhau, who is the nutritionist for the A.L. Gilbert Company. Just call the Gilbert office in Oakdale and they will put you through to Marit, and you talk to her. Marit literally knows everybody in the feed industry in this area, she knows every type of bagged feed available, and she will also be able to tell you where to get seed. Marit will treat you with respect, and please tell her 'hi' from me and that I sent you.

So this should be enough to get you started on thinking. If you seriously want to make your property into a horse farm, I would choose one area to begin with, something of a "do-able" size, and start getting that area set up with some kind of sprinkler system that runs off the pump from your well. The reason for having a "seed mix" is that you then have grasses that sprout at different rates, that flower and seed out at different times, and that green up in sequence through the long growing season that we have. So then you get your seed and plant that area where you have the watering system.

Meanwhile, you also plan on having your horses inside of some enclosure that has fence proper to horses around it, and clean every single weed out of there until it is absolutely just bare ground, and then you feed the horses good hay. Marit will also, of course, be able to tell you all about where to get that -- even grass hay for a reasonable price. And if you don't have one, of course you will need a hay shelter so you can buy in bulk and have the men come in and unload it and stack it for you and it won't cost so much.

Good luck with this, and keep us posted. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

 

 

Ride A Grey Horse
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 Posted: Fri Jun 11th, 2010 03:30 pm
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Hello Dr.Deb and all,

Dr. Deb, I see your recommendations for seeding a Calif. Central Valley field.  Would you also, maybe, have a recommendation of varieties for us here in New England?  We're in northern Connecticut near the borders of Massachusetts and New York State. 

My horse and his buddy are in a 3-or-4 acre field that connects to their paddock and run-in shed.  The gate to the field is open sixteen hours a day. 

Until I learned on another thread that red clover is poisonous, it never occurred to me there might be bad stuff in their field - it was always hayed before we moved here.  (We got this place two years ago - steadily fixing it up though we can only be here half the year because of my husband's work.) 

The horses' field has a patch of red clover, maybe 30 sq.yds.  Last year, we did have a sudden late-summer outbreak of "scratches" on their fetlocks! which the hoof-trimmer reckoned was due to the unusually wet summer we were having last year - it went away with twice-a-day scrubbing with hibiclens and slatherings of zinc (desitin) - but, hm, maybe it really went away along with the clover.

When my "Poison Plants" cd-rom makes its way here across the country, I'll check out what our grasses are.  The horses seem healthy for now, but I took the red clover info as a wake-up call. 

To remove the red clover, I'm just pulling it out (not a very high-tech method, but as they say it works if you do ) and wanted to ask you - what should I use to over-seed that area, and the rest of the field to improve it?

And do you recommend spreading a broadleaf-killer? That's what the big hay farmers around here use.   The company that limes your fields will spread that, too, in very early spring, a month or so before humans & horses arrive.  Only, it's sure not organic, so I wanted your advice. 

Thank you, and best,
Cynthia




DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Jun 11th, 2010 05:46 pm
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Dear RAGH: I don't have feelings one way or the other about 'organic', because the term varies in its "legal" meaning. And I'm not on a campaign to run all farms 'organically', whatever that may mean.

What you DO want to know is what the half-life or rate of degradation of any chemical you put on the field may be. The man who is licensed to spread chemicals will be able to tell you this. So you take what he tells you, i.e. for example, "it'll all be gone in two weeks," and you double that, and that's when it will be safe to put your livestock on the field after it is sprayed. And yes, I would let the guy spray out broadleafs.

Killing clover is very difficult. Grubbing it up is about the best you will be able to do. You will want to try to have all that you can see dug up before the guy comes to spray, because what clover does in response to mowing, grazing, or poisoning is it does not die, but rather it comes back smaller and smaller until it is TINY -- which just makes it harder and harder to find so that you can grub it out.

As to overseeding: in New England you have more choices than we do out here in the desert (which is what the Central Valley would be if it weren't for irrigation, and what Trace's pasture actually is because she doesn't have access to irrigation). My no. 1 choice for your area for horse pasture would be Timothy. This is the no. 1 greatest horse grass on earth, and it succeeds very well in your area. We can't even try to grow it here. I'd overseed the whole pasture with it, in fact, but give the former clover patch some special attention to be sure you keep it moist there so that it sprouts well.

And yes you are absolutely correct that the red clover, which is bad anyway but in wet years harbors external fungi in addition, is behind your horses' "scratches". When the weather dried up, the fungus on the clover (and the clover itself) cut back, and so then did the severity of the "scratches". This is why people think that the problem is caused by wet weather, damp grass, or mud -- it does correlate with wet weather, just not in the way they were thinking. -- Dr. Deb

Kate
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 Posted: Sat Jun 12th, 2010 08:13 am
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Dr Deb

Reading this thread has made me really want to buy a poisonous plants book!  Does your PP book cover plants in the UK? If it doesn't, could you recommend one that does?

Thankyou, Kate

Ride A Grey Horse
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 Posted: Sat Jun 12th, 2010 01:56 pm
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Thank you very much Dr. Deb for your recommendations on this pasture.  I'll be calling the guys Monday about Timothy seed, broadleaf sprays, etc. 

The "Poison Plants in the Pasure: a Horse Owner's Guide" cd arrived this morning.  It's great.  It's got clear pictures of all these gorgeous terrible bad-guys, including some of my favorite garden flowers (cornflowers? toxic?!) - it seems to answer all your practical questions about each, without clobbering you with more Latin than you wanted - and it's such a joyous, nature-loving book. 
 
Kate, just from what I've looked at so far, there are oodles of subjects from the UK and Commonwealth, as well as USA. 

Now I'm going back out there to keep grubbing out red clover in the rain, the least I can do after poisoning two horses' livers last year.  

Best,
Cynthia





 


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