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Cattle poisoning

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Saturday 26 April 1873, The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser

WE received, the other day, from a correspondent, a statement reporting the death of a number of cattle belonging to Mr. W. Nowland, through eating some poisonous herb that grew on the line of road along which they were travelling. Mr. Nowland has since sent us the following letter, which will be of service as placing more clearly beyond doubt the true cause of the death of these cattle, and as helping stockowners and persons in charge of travelling stock to identify the plant which has done the mischief, and to guard as far as possible against incurring similar losses :

Sir—As the following facts may be of some service as a warning to drovers and others who have cattle to travel between Breeza and Merriwa, I would feel obliged if you will insert them in the Mercury :— I had a mob of cattle, numbering 600 head, started from my “Ward’s Mistake” station, in New England, and brought to Warrah Ridge, at which place they were drafted into two lots, the one of 400 bullocks (which I had sold at £4 4s. per head, to be delivered at Edinglassie) were taken down the cattle road, and had just reached that road on the reserve near the Round Island, where the cattle grazed for half-an-hour. When it was discovered that they were eating the poison weed they were moved on immediately, and soon began to show the same symptoms of poisoning that a dog would that bad had a dose of strychnine : some of them would stagger, fall, and become convulsed, and never rise again ; others would fall and rise again several times, but not one that had once fallen with it ever recovered. I lost fifty-five head in this manner, fifteen of them died within eight hours, and thirty six more next day, the remaining four lingered and died afterwards The poison weed may be known by those who are not acquainted with it as a plant with spreading leaves, which resemble sage leaves, and with a narrow stalk about a foot long, at the top of which is a hard yellow flower, almost round in shape; it grows only in damp places. Cattle bred on the plains seldom eat it, but strange cattle, horses, and sheep will eat it ravenously. It is a powerful poison, and I think that one-half of the various reports of the breaking out of diseases in stock are owing to the destruction caused by this weed. I may mention as a proof that it was not pleuro-pneumonia, or any other such disease, that killed my bullocks, that the 200 head that were drafted off from the other lot were taken down the road via Murrurundi to Musclebrook, and not one died, nor showed any symptoms of disease of any kind, although they were running with the other lot on the day previous to their being poisoned. I may add that, upon examination of some of them after they died, it was discovered that their lungs were perfectly healthy.

A desire to prevent loss of property to many of your readers is my excuse for trespassing thus far on your space.

I am, sir, &c,

Rosedale, Camberwell. 24th April, 1873.

We give special prominence to this matter, as it is certainly one of very great importance, not only to the pastoral interest, but through the pastoral interest to the whole community. It is never to be forgotten that two of the main conditions upon which the prosperity of the pastoral interest in this colony at present depends are, first, the possibility of carrying on operations in a comparatively inexpensive manner, obtaining large tracts of land at an easy if not a nominal rent, trusting to the natural grasses and spontaneous growths of the soil, and reducing to the lowest point, consistent with efficient management, the cost of stock-keeping labour. The time may come when, with an increased population and altered circumstances, a different system may become more suitable and more profitable, and when the more artificial and costly methods adopted in the mother country may be introduced by degrees with success. That stage, however, has not yet been reached, and the enterprise, to be profitable, must be carried on in a comparatively rough-and-ready and inexpensive manner. The other condition is that stock of all kinds should be able to travel hither and thither at the least possible cost, and with the utmost possible freedom (saving, of course, such restrictions as may be necessary to hold under control the spread of any contagious disease, and to put a check upon the operations of cattle-stealers.) Now, with one or both of these conditions, the appearance or propagation of any new kind of poisonous herbage, or the development of any new risk from plants with which stockowners have been familiar, but which they have previously seen no reason to regard as dangerous, would seriously interfere. The recent losses of stock from poisoning in Victoria and in this colony, ought, as it appears to us, to awaken a lively interest in the whole question, and to lead to measures being taken for its thorough investigation. It is to be presumed that the stock inspectors of the colony are under instructions to keep a watch upon any new appearances of this kind. That is to be inferred from the fact that the presence of the poison-pea in the Dubbo and Glen Innes districts in the year 1872 (though without fatal results) is recorded in the report of the Acting Chief Inspector for that year, lately published. But a special investigation of such cases as those reported by Mr. Nowland, and the prompt publication of the conclusions derived from it, would be no overstepping of the functions of the department. In some of the cases of loss in Victoria, where cattle died from eating solanum nigrum, the peculiarity appears to be that the plant which caused the injury has long been known, and regarded as practically innocuous. It has been eaten by stock before, but any deleterious properties contained in it have been neutralised, or have remained inactive, so long as an abundance of other feed has been obtainable on the spot, and has been eaten with it. During the present season, however, whether from land being overstocked or from other causes, these conditions have not been present. Other plants and grasses have been consumed or have perished, the solanum (and it has been the same we gather with the lobelia) has flourished more luxuriantly; and partly from its luxuriance, partly from the scarcity of other food in the immediate vicinity, it has been eaten alone and in quantity, and has thus, under new circumstances, developed quite a new character. In the case of the plant described by Mr. Nowland it is seen that whilst stock bred in the neighbourhood eat it sparingly, strange stock feed upon it with eagerness ; and it is therefore conceivable that (as with the solanum poisonings) if it should happen that other feed should fail, the local stock in the neighbourhood of Pine Ridge might be driven to feed more freely upon this weed, and might suffer in consequence. The weed can hardly have any repulsive scent or taste, or it would have been avoided instinctively by the travelling cattle. And so it may be with many other weeds or herbage of spontaneous growth, which, though in ordinary seasons they are no appreciable source of danger, may, in exceptional seasons, through the too close feeding-down of the ordinary pasture, through the dying-out of some herb ordinarily found in association with them, and which, eaten with them, may counteract their effects, or through other exceptional causes, assume the character of virulent poisons. According to the first account given of the death of certain cattle in the Gwydir district (afterwards attributed by the local stockowners and the inspector of the district to herb poisoning) the appearances were described as suggestive of rinderpest. After prolonged discussion, and much effort on the part of those alive to the danger, after delay that might have been attended with fatal consequences, the Government of this colony and the Government of Victoria have resorted to the extreme but judicious measure of prohibiting the introduction of stock from places beyond the seas where there is reason to believe contagious stock-diseases prevail. The recent poisoning cases go to show that evils of a less alarming character, but still of serious magnitude, may be lurking in our midst, awaiting merely the concurrence of favourable conditions to bring them into activity. We do not at present know, whether it would be practicable or desirable to resort to any form of legislation for the purpose of checking their development; but we would urge upon the Government, with an organised staff of inspectors at command, and with a skilled botanist in its service, to do what can be done by investigation to throw light upon the subject. The publication of facts such as those reported by Mr. Nowland, with as much of precision and accuracy as observers can command, would also in the meantime be a service to all interested in the subject.

Written by macalba

April 9, 2010 at 8:07 pm

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