Milkweed and Your Hay


Without milkweed, the monarch butterfly would become extinct as this is the only plant that the monarch caterpillars eat. But, what about other animals, birds or insects? Is this a plant we want in our pastures or hay fields?


Milkweed is toxic to poultry and some livestock including sheep, goats, cattle, and horses with cattle, sheep and horses being the most susceptible. Milkweed contains two toxins: cardiac glycosides and an unidentified neurotoxin. Both of these can cause death. While the neurotoxin is the most lethal, the cardiac glycosides can produce digitalis-like signs that can contribute to death.

The amount of milkweed that your horse would have to eat to become ill or die is uncertain. A lot is dependent on the horse but, it could be as little as 0.0005% of your horse’s weight to as much as 2.0%. For a 1,000 pound horse, the amount could vary from ½ pound to 20 pounds.

Dry milkweed that has been baled in the hay DOES NOT lose its toxicity! While the green plant is more toxic, the dry plant can still make a horse sick or even die!


The symptoms of cardiac glycosides include depression and reluctance to stand, irregular heartbeat, colic, dilated pupils, muscular weakness or tremors and uncoordinated gait, and labored breathing. Death typically occurs within 24 hours.

Neurotoxins affect the nervous system. The symptoms include severe colic, dilated pupils, muscle tremors and falling down, incoordination, violent convulsions, and respiratory failure. Death occurs within 24 hours of ingesting the toxin.


For the most part, milkweed is not a vegetation that a horse would eat unless there is no other grasses around. If your horse is on pasture, be sure to monitor how much grass is available to your horse. Check to see if there is any milkweed growing in the pasture and eradicate it immediately.

The greater threat is in baled hay. The whorled-leaf milkweed has a finer stem and leaves that make it harder for horses to separate the weeds from the hay. Always inspect baled hay for the presence of weeks, especially the toxic weeds.

Even though milkweed may not be a “favorite” feed for horses, the potential for death is high. Always take measures to make sure that milkweed is not growing in your pastures or baled in your horse’s hay.

KeiLin Farm, a producer of farm fresh beef and eggs, as well as premium hay, is located in Rose Township, Michigan and is in the process of acquiring the required licenses to become a small wine maker.

Hay is for Horses

And cattle, goats, and sheep

Bales on wagon

Our busy hay season is over for the year, now we start selling our stored hay to people who need extra hay to get their animals through the winter. Finding good hay, the right hay, is not always easy. You know your animal best. Even though the available hay is good, it may not be right for you.

Know your animal

Most people know that cows and other ruminants can eat hay that is unsuitable for horses, there are exceptions there. Certain sheep and goats have diets similar to horses.

Among horses, the age and health of the horse can be a factor when selecting hay. We have a horse who is nearly 30 years old. For the past two years she has been fed second cutting or a very soft first cutting in order to maintain her weight. In addition to her chewing capabilities, her digestive system could not assimilate the nutrients from the stemmier first cutting hay. Horses with Cushing’s or other metabolic diseases may require certain blends of hay.

Know your hay

Everything that is green is not hay. Take the time to learn and recognize the different grasses that can be present in a bale of hay as well as the weeds. Some weeds are harmless; others can be poisonous for your animal.

Before committing to a hay purchase from a farmer who has not provided you with hay before, ask if you can examine the hay first. We allow prospective customers to break open a bale, check through the hay, and, purchase one bale as a test for their animal. Even the best looking hay may not be the “flavor” that your animal prefers.

Remember too, that if you are offering hay to an animal that still has pasture, the hay will be ignored for the greener, tastier pasture.

Know your farmer

If your hay farmer is out of hay and you are looking through the hay listings on the internet, how do you or would you decide on which farmer to select? Are you looking at the lowest cost? Closest to your farm? Both of these factors come into consideration, but, neither may be appropriate for selecting the best hay for your animal.

Ask your friends for the name of their hay farmer. If that person is out of hay, don’t’ be afraid to ask the hay farmer you are calling for the names of people who have purchased hay in the past. Visit the barn where the hay is stored. Was it put up dry and stored dry? Do you see or smell mold? Examine the hay for weeds. Are they lose or tight bales? A lower price for loser bales could end up costing you more in the long run.

Your animals depend on you for their food. The hay you provide during the winter must be the best you can afford to keep them warm during the cold, snowy months ahead. Know your animals, your hay, your farmer – then select the best hay possible for them.

KeiLin Farm, a producer of farm fresh beef and eggs, as well as premium hay, is located in Rose Township, Michigan and is in the process of acquiring the required licenses to become a small wine maker.