Ragwort is a poisonous weed of extensively farmed grassland and unmanaged ground which may cause loss of stock. In particular, cattle and horses are susceptible to poisoning whereas sheep and goats are more resistant but not immune.
The application of an herbicide can temporarily increase the attractiveness of Ragwort to grazing stock. Cutting and wilting can make ragwort more palatable and poisoning mainly arises after eating:
What ragwort looks like
Ragwort develops into a tall erect plant. In their second or subsequent years the rosettes mature and produce flowering stems from late June onwards. These are between 30-100 cm tall, carrying dense flat topped clusters of bright yellow daisy-like flower heads each 1.5-2.5 cm across. The leaves on mature plants are strongly divided into narrow lobes with the base clasping the non-woody main stem. The flowering stems die back after producing seeds.
Best methods to control ragwort
Prevention is better than cure: ragwort will not establish where there is a dense vigorous sward because it is a coloniser of bare or overgrazed land. Therefore good grassland management will reduce the risk of ragwort establishment.
Cutting at the early flowering stage reduces seed production but will encourage more vigorous growth in the following year. Cut plants left lying on the field are a poisoning risk to grazing animals.
Pulling is practical where the weed population is low but small fragments of root remaining in the soil will give rise to new plants. Gloves should be worn if controlling by this method.
Herbicides readily kill seedlings; second-year or older rosette plants are only moderately susceptible. Good control requires close adherence to the recommended treatments. Herbicides temporarily increase the attractiveness of ragwort to grazing stock. Land occupiers are advised to keep cattle and horses out of sprayed pastures for at least 3-4 weeks. Follow-up treatments will be required to achieve control.
Land occupier obligation and the law
Ragwort is specified as an Injurious Weed under the Weeds (Jersey) Law 1961 which requires occupiers to prevent it from spreading.
Land occupier co-operation is required to control this weed and prevent it from maturing, seeding and ultimately spreading throughout the island. This is a legal requirement if you are the occupier of the land upon which the weed is growing.
If no effective action is taken by the occupier of the land, Environmental Protection may, under the law, issue a Statutory Notice to enforce control. If the occupier then fails to take such action as has been specified, the Minister may take action and recover expenses incurred by doing so.
Ragwort Poisoning UK Leaflet