The rosettes you don’t want – how to rid your paddocks of ragwort

Effective ragwort control

Ragwort is a perennial problem for the majority of horse and paddock owners. Although it is impossible to calculate the exact number of horses affected by ragwort due to the long term nature of ragwort poisoning, it is estimated that up to 1000 horses a year (ref. University of Liverpool Veterinary School) may be dying as a result of the cumulative effects of ragwort consumption. Quite apart from the equine health aspect, common ragwort is a classified as an “Injurious weed” by DEFRA under the Ragwort Control Act 2003, and failure to control ragwort may lead to prosecution. So what are the most effective methods for ragwort control in your horse’s paddock?

Three main options are available for equestrian grazing land:

  • Dig it up. If you have a small influx of ragwort digging each plant up by the roots is feasible. Specific tools are available to make this job a little less back breaking.
  • Burn it. It is possible to use a spot burner to destroy ragwort, but this is really only suitable for hard surfaces as you might set your field alight!
  • Spray it. Probably the most effective and least onerous method of ragwort control is to use a herbicide spray.  Small areas of ragwort can be targeted with a “spot sprayer” which involves spraying each ragwort rosette individually. Non-professional use herbicides such as Ragtime are ideal for spot spraying ragwort, and come premixed and ready to use in a knapsack sprayer.

How to treat large areas of Ragwort

To treat larger areas of ragwort or if you have large acreage to cover using a professional use product such as Headland Polo applied by a tractor-mounted sprayer is likely to be most effective. However a professional use product can only be applied by a person with a recognised Certificate of Competence. Achieving certification for professional use may be beneficial for larger livery and equestrian centre owners and managers.

Whatever method of control you use, ragwort is poisonous to people as well as horses and should be treated with respect. Always wear gloves and a mask if hand pulling ragwort, and wear appropriate protective clothing as described on the label of the product you are using when spraying herbicides. Ragwort is especially dangerous to horses as it dies because it becomes more palatable, and horses should be kept off sprayed areas until all traces of the ragwort have disappeared. Pulled ragwort should be stored safely and dried then burned or rotted down in compost for at least 12 months.

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