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I have a question regarding horse nettles and their toxicity.

Because of the ultra wet spring and summer we had last year, my longtime supplier of small bales of grassy hay didn't get his haying done until late summer and into fall. His bales of hay were replete with horse nettles AND their berries. I didn't notice it until the bales were already stacked in my barn. I questioned him about them. He shrugged his shoulders and said he hadn't had any problem with this hay and it was from the same fields he has always cut. I surmise that he has always cut these fields beginning early in the year and the nettles never grew to any size nor produced so many berries.

I asked around my "horsey" friends, and some had never heard of the toxicity of horse nettles. Others said that horses would pick through the hay and not eat the horse nettles. However, I do know that horses will eat around certain weeds in the field but will consume them when they are dry in their hay. I filled the rest of the barn with hay that had no visible nettles from someone else. I am now getting to the end of the nettles-free hay and am reluctant to start feeding the suspect stuff.

I would like to hear what any of you have to say on this issue before I start buying more hay.

Mike Rock says 2017-03-02 17:45:48 (CST)

Well, it looks like the dried, ripe berry stage is the least toxic and they'd have to eat a bale of it to get any effect.

Those little boogers will sure sting you hand when pulling them in the garden.... :((( Now I know what to call them.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

BrianL says 2017-03-03 07:54:26 (CST)

For the most part, I doubt, given a choice, a horse would eat enough of the nettles themselves for the solanine to cause ill effect if the nettles are few and far between, mainly because it tastes pretty bad and horses are selective eaters. But solanine is toxic and, if berries are present, they contain concentrated amounts of this toxin. Bear in mind, horse nettles (Solanum carolinense) are not true nettles, which are part of the genus Urtica (the most common being stinging nettles), so if you start researching "nettles" make sure this is clear. Some folks feed their equines stinging nettles for medicinal purposes and those are a different plant altogether.

This being said, the nettles themselves from any genus with their prickly spines can have ill effect on a horses mouth and throat, ranging from pain to an allergic reaction. If it were me, and mind you this is just my opinion, I'd reject the hay even though it was already in my barn. Most hay folks will take back bad product and good grass hay isn't supposed to be full of weeds, especially from the nightshade family. I know. It'd be a lot of work. But if the whole batch is full of horse nettles it'd bother me every time I feed and I'd end up sitting there picking out the nettles before I put out a bale. Then I'd still fret I'd missed something.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

Jonathan Shively says 2017-03-03 08:07:18 (CST)

If you were a one time buyer of five bales I can understand his shrugging his shoulders. But if you have a history of buying hay from him and paying him on time and he has this "attitude" towards your concerns, I would be looking for a new hay supplier. As you stated, it is the same fields but definitely different stages of maturity and time it was cut. If he is that lacksadasial (sp?) about your horse's health, time for a new hay supplier. I am glad to see the toxicity isn't real bad due to another poster's information, but it is your money and your horse's health. Hindsight is 20/20 and this gives you an insight to the lack of importance you and your horse are to him. Give your money to someone that has a little more professionalism in their demeanor and pride in their product.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

NoraWI says 2017-03-04 07:15:28 (CST)

Yes, Brian, that's my problem... I pick through the hay to remove the nettles, which are far more numerous than I can tolerate.

Jonathan, the problem is that this hay provider is part of my local community and known for the excellent quality hay and fairness in dealing with his customers. I have been buying hay from him for years and he has always come to my rescue without gouging if I ran out early. His price has remained steady and fair. I pay him cash as soon as the hay is stacked in my barn. I think he values me but was ignorant as to the toxicity of the horse nettles just as were my horsey friends, which, frankly, makes me wonder about them.

This has been a difficult year for making hay since it rained every third day well into late summer. I bought the other half of my hay from someone else. His hay was also cut late and is extremely stemmy and so long that the baler folded it several times. While it does not have the mature horse nettles, it does have quite a lot of pig weed seeds that the horses do leave behind. I still have a lot of hay in the barn so the problem is not immediate. But winter has a long way to run yet.

BTW, the first guy just had open heart surgery not a month ago and is still recovering. He farms pretty much alone. Of course, money is always a consideration. I should have returned his hay immediately last fall. My bad... Thanks to all who responded.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

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