Is Johnson Grass Hay Safe for Horses?

When it comes to feeding our equine companions, the safety and well-being of our horses is our utmost priority. One common concern among horse owners is whether Johnson grass hay is safe for their beloved animals. Johnson grass, a drought-tolerant weed, can infiltrate pastures and hayfields, potentially exposing horses to its risks. In this article, we will explore the safety of Johnson grass hay for horses and discuss the measures we can take to ensure their health and well-being.

Key Takeaways

  • Continuous exposure to large amounts of Johnson grass can potentially lead to neuropathy and teratogenesis in horses.
  • Proper control and management of Johnson grass in fields and pastures are crucial for minimizing the risks to equine health.
  • Feeding properly cured Johnson grass hay can be safe for horses, as the cyanide levels drop to safe levels.
  • Symptoms of Johnson grass poisoning in horses include ataxia, incoordination, urinary issues, and fetal malformations.
  • Consulting with a weed extension specialist or local Cooperative Extension Service can provide further guidance on controlling Johnson grass.

Symptoms of Johnson Grass Poisoning in Horses

Horses that graze or consume hay with Johnson grass can develop symptoms of poisoning. These symptoms can occur after a few weeks to months of continuous exposure to the plant. Affected horses gradually develop ataxia (difficulty coordinating movement), incoordination, difficulty backing, dribbling urine, paralysis of the tail and hind legs, vulva-related issues in mares, and fetal malformations. Males may exhibit extended and relaxed penises and urinary incontinence. The mechanism by which sorghums cause these problems is not well understood, but it involves spinal cord damage and problems with bladder and hind end innervations.

Symptoms of Johnson Grass Poisoning in Horses

Horses that graze or consume hay with Johnson grass can develop symptoms of poisoning. These symptoms can occur after a few weeks to months of continuous exposure to the plant. Affected horses gradually develop ataxia (difficulty coordinating movement), incoordination, difficulty backing, dribbling urine, paralysis of the tail and hind legs, vulva-related issues in mares, and fetal malformations. Males may exhibit extended and relaxed penises and urinary incontinence. The mechanism by which sorghums cause these problems is not well understood, but it involves spinal cord damage and problems with bladder and hind end innervations.

Symptoms of Johnson Grass Poisoning in Horses
Ataxia (difficulty coordinating movement)
Incoordination
Difficulty backing
Dribbling urine
Paralysis of the tail and hind legs
Vulva-related issues in mares
Fetal malformations
Extended and relaxed penises in males
Urinary incontinence

Horses that graze or consume hay with Johnson grass can develop symptoms of poisoning. These symptoms can occur after a few weeks to months of continuous exposure to the plant. Affected horses gradually develop ataxia (difficulty coordinating movement), incoordination, difficulty backing, dribbling urine, paralysis of the tail and hind legs, vulva-related issues in mares, and fetal malformations. Males may exhibit extended and relaxed penises and urinary incontinence. The mechanism by which sorghums cause these problems is not well understood, but it involves spinal cord damage and problems with bladder and hind end innervations.

Cyanide Levels in Johnson Grass Hay and Grazing

Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) is known to contain cyanide, a compound that can be dangerous to animals when metabolized. However, the concentration of cyanide drops to safe levels in properly cured Johnson grass hay. Grazing healthy adult plants is unlikely to harm horses, as they do not efficiently metabolize the compound. It is important to note that cyanide becomes a concern when the grass is stressed or damaged, such as after wilting, trampling, or frost. Under these circumstances, cyanide can be released within the leaves, making them dangerous to all species.

When horses consume Johnson grass hay that has been stressed or damaged, they may experience a range of symptoms, including breathing problems, anxiety, staggering, convulsions, coma, and even death. These symptoms arise due to the release and metabolism of cyanide in the body. The severity of the symptoms depends on the amount of cyanide ingested and the individual horse’s tolerance.

To ensure the safety of horses, it is crucial to carefully manage the production and feeding of Johnson grass hay. Proper curing of the hay is essential to reduce cyanide levels and mitigate the risk of poisoning. Hay that has been adequately dried and cured will have significantly lower levels of cyanide, making it safe for consumption by horses. Consulting with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist can provide further guidance on managing and feeding Johnson grass hay.

Cyanide Levels in Johnson Grass Hay and Grazing Table

Cyanide Levels Hay Status Safety Rating
High Stressed or damaged Johnson grass hay Unsafe for consumption
Low to Moderate Properly cured Johnson grass hay Safe for consumption

Note: The table above highlights the relationship between cyanide levels, hay status, and safety rating. Stressed or damaged Johnson grass hay can have high cyanide levels, making it unsafe for consumption. On the other hand, properly cured Johnson grass hay has lower cyanide levels and is considered safe for horses to consume.

History and Invasiveness of Johnson Grass

invasive Johnson grass

Johnson grass, native to Turkey, was introduced to the southeastern United States in the early 1800s. Since then, it has spread throughout the southern U.S. and is now listed as a noxious weed in 46 states. This invasive plant is known for its ability to thrive in a variety of environments and rapidly overtake fields and pastures.

One of the reasons for the invasiveness of Johnson grass is its adaptability to different soil types and climates. It can tolerate both drought and flooding, making it highly resilient. It reproduces by both seeds and underground rhizomes, allowing it to spread quickly and establish new colonies.

Johnson grass is not only detrimental to the environment but also to agricultural productivity. It competes with crops for resources such as water, sunlight, and nutrients, reducing yields in fields where it is present. Additionally, this weed can be toxic to livestock and wildlife, posing a threat to their health and well-being.

Controlling the spread of Johnson grass is crucial to mitigate its invasiveness and protect ecosystems. Farmers and land managers must implement effective management strategies to prevent the establishment and growth of this weed. This can include regular monitoring, timely mowing, proper disposal of plant material, and targeted herbicide applications.

By implementing comprehensive control measures, we can limit the impact of Johnson grass on agricultural productivity, protect native plant biodiversity, and ensure the health and safety of livestock and wildlife.

Controlling Johnson Grass in Fields and Pastures

When it comes to managing Johnson grass in fields and pastures, there are effective control measures that can be implemented. Mowing and close grazing are two methods that can help in controlling the spread of this invasive weed in pastures. By regularly mowing the grass and encouraging close grazing by livestock, the growth and spread of Johnson grass can be minimized.

For specific grass types like bermudagrass and bahiagrass, selective herbicides such as sulfosulfuron and metsulfuron plus nicosulfuron can be used to target Johnson grass. These herbicides can help to effectively control the growth of Johnson grass while preserving the desired grass species. Additionally, spot treatments of glyphosate can be applied to infestations of Johnson grass in fescue, further aiding in its control.

It is important to note that preventing the spread of Johnson grass in fields and pastures is crucial for maintaining the health and safety of livestock, particularly horses. Avoiding grazing or feeding hay made from Johnson grass that has been stressed or damaged is essential to mitigate the risk of poisoning. By implementing proper management practices and control measures, the invasiveness of Johnson grass can be reduced, ensuring the well-being of both the fields and the livestock that rely on them.

Control Method Target Grass Type Recommended Herbicides
Mowing and Close Grazing All Grass Types N/A
Selective Herbicides Bermudagrass and Bahiagrass Sulfosulfuron, Metsulfuron plus Nicosulfuron
Spot Treatment Fescue Glyphosate

Table: Control methods and recommended herbicides for managing Johnson grass in fields and pastures.

Conclusion

In conclusion, when it comes to Johnson grass hay and horses, it’s important to prioritize proper management and control. While Johnson grass itself can pose risks due to its association with neuropathy and teratogenesis in horses, these issues typically require continuous exposure to large amounts of the grass for an extended period of time. Minimizing exposure by controlling Johnson grass in fields and pastures is crucial for the health and well-being of our equine companions.

One key factor in ensuring the safety of Johnson grass hay is proper curing. When hay is cured correctly, the concentration of cyanide in the grass drops to safe levels. This is important because cyanide, found naturally in Johnson grass, can be harmful to animals when metabolized.

By following recommended control measures, such as mowing, close grazing, and utilizing selective herbicides, we can effectively manage Johnson grass in fields and pastures. Additionally, it’s vital to avoid grazing or feeding horses hay made from Johnson grass that has been stressed or damaged, as this can lead to the release of cyanide and potential toxicity.

If you’re seeking further guidance on controlling Johnson grass, we recommend consulting with a weed extension specialist or your local Cooperative Extension Service. They can provide valuable expertise and advice tailored to your specific circumstances, helping you ensure the safety and well-being of your horses.