Are Poisonous Plants A Bigger Problem for Weed-Eating Livestock?

William “Willie” Gibson, a board member of the Vermont Grass Farmers Association, and a dairy and livestock farm advisor for the Northeast Organic Farming Association wrote me a question in response to an article about teaching cows to weeds: “This surely is fascinating, Kathy.  One question that popped into my head when reading your theory “the more new things they eat, the more new things they eat” is: Could training these animals to eat many kinds of plants that we generally consider undesirable (‘weeds’) go ‘too far’ and break (some of) them away from their natural instincts (and I believe, herd- and peer-training) to avoid certain plants that can have acute, serious negative effects (i.e., ‘poisoning’)?” Willie continued, “This is coming from one who has been directly involved with dairy and livestock farming in the Northeast for all of my nearly 50 years (especially Vermont, where I was born and raised and still live, farm, and work as farm advisor). I am an avid student, practitioner, and teacher/advisor of rational intensive grazing/MIG.   I also have not studied your work in depth, but was most intrigued (and entertained) by your presentation at the VT Grass Farmer’s

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One thought on “Are Poisonous Plants A Bigger Problem for Weed-Eating Livestock?

  1. Kathy raises interesting ? as to how cows survive a binge on toxic weed like Hemlock. From reading*, I learned that various stressors -toxins, hyperthermia etc can change the structural conformation of proteins essential to normal cell function.with bad consequences for the animal, BUT the same stressors also activate genes for proteins, ex. Heat Shock Proteins(HSP).which stabilize the threatened cytoplasmic proteins.. Moreover activation of the HSP genes and others activated in cell stress, leaves the animal better equipped to deal with further toxic encounters, a step in adaptation to environmental threats which lie ahead.
    Of course I can’t say that this is THE answer to Kathy’s query about the encounter with poison Hemlock, but such physiologic defenses are extensively documented by numerous scientists for bovines and the whole animal kingdom, so I’ll bet on it.. My source is ” Environmental Physiogy of Livestock”, eds. Collier & Collier, Wiley Blackwell,2012. especially chap.8 by Elsasser et al. The book is
    expensive, but I have access to local vet school library.

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