Lantana poisoning killed our little bull

by Farmer Liz
Our little Dexter bull Donald was sick with lantana poisoning for several weeks.  I wrote this post last week with a happy ending, hoping to share with you our success in curing him, but unfortunately he didn't make it, Pete burried him yesterday.  I still wanted to share this as a warning to take lantana seriously.  We have had cattle eat it before and not suffer any consequences, so we got blase, and now we have seen first-hand how dangerous this plant can be.  We are going to miss our little bull, I'll write more about that another day, here is just the practicle aspects of lantana poisoning.

Donald in full roar before be got sick

If your animal is sick and you are looking for advice in a hurry, scroll down to the summary at the end.

Lantana camara, a declared class 3 pest plant in Queensland, seems to flourish in the South Burnett (and indeed throughout most of coastal QLD and northern NSW). Usually I am happy to let plants grow, especially if they are thriving, but Lantana is poisonous to cattle, so in this case, I agree that it is a pest that must be controlled. Anyone who has removed lantana will have wondered why cattle would want to eat it (it smells awful), but apparently some cattle get a taste for it.

When we moved to our property, we were vigilant about removing lantana. We would fence off a new paddock (our property had no internal fencing at first), dig out all the lantana and then let the cattle into the new paddock to eat the grass. We also tried spraying the lantana with woody herbicide, but we found that it tends to grow back, so the best method is to dig it out with a mattock and remove all the vegetation and roots (it can re-sprout if you miss any). Although there is still plenty of lantana around on our neighbours’ properties, which regularly flowers and seeds, it seems like once you’ve dug it all out, and then let cattle eat the pasture, it doesn’t really get established again (possibly the cattle eat any small shoots before they can big enough to cause significant poisoning and that keeps it under control).

During the dry weather, one of our neighbours very kindly agreed to let us use his property to graze Donald as we were running very low on grass. We were so grateful, and quickly set up an electric fence, checked for lantana, decided it was all too dead to bother with, and let Donald in to eat. About a week later we noticed that he wasn’t his usual boisterous self, was off his food and not calling out to the neighbouring bulls, and that lots of the lantana had been munched. It was completely our fault for being so lazy, we were devastated to see him like that and felt so guilty that we could have prevented it. The thing is you never know which cattle will eat lantana (some will avoid it), but it seems that we had the right approach before, dig out all lantana, no matter what. Also be wary when the grass is dry, cattle are more likely to look for other options, and eat plants that are normally unpalatable if they don’t have green grass.

The toxins in lantana cause liver poisoning. The symptoms are depression, loss of appetite, constipation and frequent urination. The liver damage results in jaundice and light sensitivity, which is more obvious in light coloured animals in the form of peeling skin around their muzzles. Donald was lucky that he was completely black and was spared this unpleasantness. Donald also had trouble walking to his water trough and just laid down under is favourite tree all day, so we brought him buckets of water. He also had a very snotty nose and trouble breathing.

The main treatment recommended is immediate activated charcoal drench (vet required) to attempt to soak up the poison. We didn’t realise that Donald was sick for several days, possibly a week, so we decided we were too late to try this, of course now we wonder if it would have helped him. We gave him shots of penicillin for four days to help clear up his nose (probably a secondary infection). And we gave him shots of vitamin C and B12 as recommended by Pat Coleby, so support his body to remove the toxins. I gave him regular brushing to stimulate blood flow when he wasn’t moving around much. We tried to encourage him to eat, offering hay, freshly picked green panic grass, grain, copra, molasses, anything we could think of, but he didn’t want to eat. We offered fresh water in buckets as frequently as possible.

A lantana-poisoned animal can take weeks to die, so while Donald was sick we were constantly looking for signs that he might be starting to recover, or if he was suffering too much. With each injection he seemed to get stronger (i.e. more resistant, with tail flicking and head tossing), so we were convinced that he was improving slowly, but then in the last few days he just went downhill very quickly.  It was horrible watching him suffer and if this ever happens again, I will know to euthinise the animal before he gets to this stage, but I just kept thinking maybe he would pull through.

  • Lantana is poisonous to cattle, some cattle will eat it, and lantana poisoning can be fatal, the best way to prevent poisoning is to dig out all the lantana on your property (sorry there isn’t an easier answer, you can also spend a fortune on herbicide, but we found it just grew back).
  • The symptoms of lantana poisoning in cattle are depression, loss of appetite, constipation, frequent urination and light sensitivity in pale skinned animals. 
  • If you catch it in time, a vet can provide an activated charcoal slurry drench to try to soak up the toxins. If this animal is important to you call a vet immediately and have them try a charcoal drench.
  • If there is any sign of secondary infection, give antibiotics.
  • Shots of vitamin C, vitamin B12 and frequent brushing may also help support recovery.
  • Make sure the animal is in the shade and has access to water. Provide food, but it may not want to eat.

More information about Lantana and Cattle

QLD dept agriculture - Lantana

Have you experienced lantana poisoining in your stock?  Any tips for recovery?  Any tips for removing lantana?

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