By: Carl C. Stafford
Senior Extension Agent
With the onset of real gardening weather now in early May after a very dry April and with record low temps early in April slowing down outdoor activities, gardeners have begun in earnest their outdoor efforts. This is a prime time to remind gardening enthusiasts of your farmer neighbors.
Virginia Farm Bureau reminded me to bring up this subject when I read their magazine – Cultivate, Spring 2016 issue. Besides a nice cover picture showing some successful greenhouse growers, near the back of their magazine is an article about cattle and poisonous plants.
Some home yards and gardens, contain extremely toxic plants. Farm animals across the fence from your home can ingest and die from eating poisonous plants. The Yew shrub is a good example, but there are many others. Lest we error on the wrong side of plant identification, it seems simple enough to practice a standard policy when it comes to what I call “yard clippings”.
The policy I hope gardeners can practice is this: never dump yard clippings of any kind in livestock pastures, be it your pasture or your neighbors. The risk we run is that we do not know a plant, tree or shrub is toxic to livestock. And, sure enough grazing livestock will give it a taste if for no other reason than they are curious.
There was a court case in Madison a few years back wherein the neighbor dumped certain “yard clippings” across the fence and the livestock being curious critters, investigated the new pile of plant debris and proceeded to eat enough of to kill themselves. A big cost to the farmer and a thorn in the side of neighbor relations.
No one seeks to create such a situation on purpose but it can happen and it will happen again, although unintended. Keep yard clippings in the yard, compost them for future use as soil improving organic matter. Keep it simple, practice a policy that does not challenge you to know what is being tossed, just don’t toss – compost in the yard instead.