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Morgan Watts column: Poisonous plants for livestock

By Morgan Watts
N.C. Cooperative Extension

Something to keep in mind this time of year when ornamental yard plants are blooming is that a lot of them are poisonous to livestock. The most common species of livestock I usually hear about ingesting these plants is goats. One thing to know about poisonous plants is that we don’t always know the threshold of what will actually cause harm. It could be a few bites, or it could be several plants. The biggest prevention to keep livestock from being poisoned is to not plant ornamentals near your pastures and barns. Don’t throw trimmings from these plants in the pastures, and make sure to keep your fences secure to keep your livestock out of your yard if you have these plants.


Parts of plant: Leaves, bark and seeds. Fresh or dry.

Animals poisoned: All kinds, but cattle and horses are most commonly affected when yard clippings are thrown over fences where livestock graze.

Pokeweed Family

Common pokeweed, Poke, Inkberry, Pigeonberry

Parts of plant: Most poisoning occurs when the roots are eaten; shoot, leaves, and berries are also poisonous if eaten fresh and in toxic quantities.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and horses eating berries or fresh leaves; hogs poisoned by grubbing roots or finding roots left exposed by erosion. Abortion in cows has been caused by them eating leaves and stems.


Parts of plant: Leaves, twigs, and nectar; 0.1-1.5% animal weight necessary to cause symptoms.

Animals poisoned: Mostly sheep and goats but also cattle and horses.

Hydrangea Family

Smooth hydrangea, Wild hydrangea, Seven-bark

Parts of plant: Leaves in partially wilted condition.

Rose Family

Black cherry, Cherry

Parts of plant: Leaves, twigs, bark, and seeds. Discarded fruit pits should not be available to dogs or caged birds.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, horses, sheep, goats, dogs, and birds.

Boxwood Family

Box, Boxwood

Parts of plant: Roots, leaves, bark, and twigs.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, sheep, horses and swine. Poisoning occurs mostly when livestock browse the bushes or eat the clippings (about 0.15% animal weight).

Ruscus Family


Parts of plant: Leaves or flowers and rhizome.

Animals poisoned: All livestock and pets (dogs).

Obviously, this is not a complete list. If you are unsure if your plant is poisonous to livestock, please contact us at the Rowan County Center at 704-216-8970, or send an email to amwatts@ncsu.edu. If one of your livestock has ingested a poisonous plant, please contact your local veterinarian.



Morgan Watts is livestock and field crops agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension.

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