By Dr Debbie Twiss
“Four well-conditioned heifers found lying dead in the paddock this morning and a couple more dying…” was the situation greeting a local farmer on Monday morning. Ingestion of toxic garden clippings would result in the death of 17 weaned heifers over the next 48 hours.
The sequence of events that led to the losses were:
- The weaners finished the straw in their hay ring on Sunday morning
- As the heifers were being shifted to a new paddock in 24 hours, the decision was made to leave hay racks empty (heifers had grass and grain feed available)
- On Sunday evening garden clippings were dumped onto a green waste rubbish pile in the heifers’ paddock
- The farm manager, who knew about dangers of Oleander, had gone home before garden clippings were dumped in heifers’ paddock
- Curious weaners examined the rubbish pile on Sunday evening and found leafy green plant material to chew on. The garden clippings included Oleander
Oleander is an evergreen, ornamental shrub commonly used in local gardens. The Oleander plant is highly toxic to many animal species including cattle, horses, humans, dogs and cats. As little as 5-8 leaves (0.005% of body weight) can kill a cow. Wilted clippings are less bitter than growing plant material, which may explain why reported poisonings most commonly involve dumped garden waste. The toxic compounds in Oleander are the cardiac glycosides oleandroside and nerioside. These toxins cause heart failure and gastric inflammation with abdominal pain. Cattle can show symptoms of toxicity depression; uncoordinated walking; lying down; salivating; breathing difficulty within 30 minutes to 36 hours after ingestion of plant material. Cattle which survive the initial poisoning may develop watery fetid smelling diarrhoea; congested inflammed membranes; air pockets under skin, weakness and/or lethargy.
There is no antidote for Oleander poisoning in cattle. In this case, cattle that did not die of acute heart failure were given supportive treatment to reduce severity of gut damage. As well as supportive medication to treat scours and gut pain, the cattle were also given fluids for hydration and psyllium to assist in toxin absorption. Thirty percent of the weaner mob died as a result of a single night access to Oleander clippings. Seventy percent of the weaners were saved thanks to the quick action by the farm manager calling The Vet Group who quickly identified the cause of the deaths.
Other common garden plants that are toxic to cattle include:
- Delphiniums, Larkspurs
- Poinsettia, Spurges, Snow on the Mountain
- Golden Chain, Laburnum
- Lantana, Red Sage, Yellow Sage, West Indian Lantana
- Oak Trees
A full list can be found at the following website:
It is recommended that garden clippings be kept out of paddocks that have stock in them. If your animals show any worrying signs after accessing plants, please call Farm Services on 1300 838 700 as soon as possible.