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Study: Do horses sort out meadow saffron in hay?

by Jil Wiedemann
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The meadow saffron is very common in some regions. And this despite the fact that it is poisonous for horses. A study has tested whether horses eliminate meadow saffron from hay. The results are clear.

Meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale L., family: Colchicaceae) is a common plant species in extensively used grasslands. In spring, its leaves develop a tulip-like capsule containing seeds. The toxins colchicine and colchicein contained in meadow saffron are not only a problem in the fresh plant. Even after processing into hay and prolonged storage, all parts of the plant are highly toxic.

This makes it a danger to the end users, in many cases horses. Colchicine causes a variety of symptoms laminitis, bloody diarrhoea, neurological disorders and circulatory failure. And in the worst case ends in death due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles. As little as five kilograms of hay per day containing 1.48% percent Meadow saffron over three days is dangerous.

Meadow saffron has been spreading more and more in recent years and is difficult to contain. To ensure that the grassland can continue to be used, some stable operators feed hay contaminated with autumn crocus. With the argument that the horses would sort out the plant anyway. It is known that horses avoid fresh meadow saffron in pastures. But what about in hay?

The Study

To test this, an 18-day study was conducted with six horses. The horses were given hay ad libitum. At six different times of the day, the horses were fed additional hay containing between one and two percent meadow saffron for a period of one hour. At the same time, the horses were observed during feed intake. Personally and by video surveillance. If a horse ate more than two meadow saffron plants during an observation period, the experiment was stopped and repeated on another day. After two abortions, the horse was excluded from the trial for safety reasons.

Alarming results

The results were alarming. Despite ad libitum feeding with perfect hay, five out of six horses already ingested autumn crocus leaves and capsules in the first two runs. They had to be taken out of the experiment. Four horses even preferred the poisonous plant to their hay. Even one horse, which had consistently eliminated meadow saffron components at the beginning of the trial, lost its shyness in the course of the study and also ate it from the seventh observation period onwards.

For this reason, feeding hay contaminated with meadow saffron should be rejected. The horses do not selectively sort out the poisonous plant in the hay. Due to the high content of colchicine, feeding hay contaminated with meadow saffron can by no means exclude the possibility of poisoning. Feeding such hay is therefore strongly discouraged.

Source: onlinelibary Wiley

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