Buttercup in Pasture and Hayfields
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Greening of pastures and hayfields will be here before we know it and the sure sign of spring each year is the identifiable yellow flower of buttercup. Although some may enjoy the sight of these pretty yellow flowers most livestock producers know that they are not enjoyable for livestock to eat. In fact, buttercup is actually toxic to all species of livestock. When the plant is chewed or broken down it releases a toxin called protanemonin, as a result animals could suffer blistering in their mouth and parts of their intestines, colic, diarrhea, and in severe cases, death. However, most animals will not consume buttercup because of its taste. For hayfields this in not a concern since the protanemonin toxin when dried is inactivated.
When grazing pastures in the fall, overgrazing is a recipe for disaster when trying to keep pastures clear of buttercup. Grazing too close opens up the soil surface to sunlight, allowing the seed to germinate. Buttercup typically grows as a winter annual, meaning they grow from seed each year, sprouting in the fall, growing during winter, flower in the spring, and make seed before the summer heat chokes them out. Ideally, grazing should be managed to leave enough forage and plant material to keep soil from being exposed. In reality this should be done throughout the grazing season to keep weed seed in general from germinating.
Readers may be asking themselves when is the best time to treat pastures for buttercup based on the information covered above. I would encourage producers to remember the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. An effective weed control program will combine different approaches such as selecting well-adapted forages, taking soil samples regularly to insure proper pH and nutrient status to help those forages establish and grow, as well as managing grazing properly. Part of this weed control program may even call for chemical treatment at some point when absolutely necessary. For buttercup, producers should be out scouting pastures in late February and March to see if they have a buttercup problem and be ready to treat with a recommended product before it starts to flower. If treated properly this will result in better chemical control.
Producers can find out more information about weed control as well as discuss a specific weed management plan based on the needs of their farming operation by contacting Kendra Fortner at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Jackson County office at 828-586-4009 or the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Swain County office at 828-488-3848 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.