Milkweed often bears blossoms and fruit at the same time. This plant gets its name because it contains a milky juice that oozes out quickly when any plant part is broken. It grows in dry areas along creekbeds, at roadsides, in waste places, and in meadows. The plant may be 1 to 3 feet high. Greenish-white flowers are borne in umbrellalike clusters. Leaves may be narrow or broad. Milkweed is perennial.
Several species of milkweed are poisonous to range animals. Labriform milkweed is the most toxic. Other species-include western whorled, wooly pod, and Mexican whorled.
Milkweed poisoning occurs frequently in sheep and cattle and occasionally in horses. Most livestock losses are the result of hungry animals concentrated around milkweed-infested corrals, bed grounds, and driveways. Poisoning may also occur if animals are fed hay containing large amounts of the plant.
Leaves and other above ground parts of the plant are poisonous. They contain a resinous substance and several glucosidal substances that may be the toxic compounds. Milkweed may cause losses at any time, but it is most dangerous during the active growing season.
Where and When It Grows
It is often found in sandy soils of plains and foothills. It grows on ranges and abandoned farms, along roadsides, in pastures, in ditches, and in waste places. The plant starts growth in early spring.
How It Affects Livestock
An average-sized sheep that eats 1 to 3 ounces of green leaves of one of the more toxic species is likely to die of poisoning. It may die within a few hours or live 2 to 4 days.
Signs of poisoning:
1. Loss of muscular control
2. Staggering and falling
3. Violent spasms
5. Rapid, weak pulse
Difficulty in breathing
7. Respiratory paralysis
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