Managing Buttercups in Horse Pastures

Buttercups are toxic to horses and can take over a pasture. Here's how to handle them.


When you’re out driving through the countryside in the springtime, a field full of yellow buttercups can be a lovely sight. When that field is your horse’s pasture, however, all that yellow can be a stress-inducing vision to behold.

Horse in Field of Buttercups

Buttercups are toxic to horses and other livestock species. Fortunately, horses generally have no interest in grazing on them when other food is available, and they are adept at eating around them. But because they survive your horse’s teeth when everything else around gets grazed down, they can thrive and spread and before you know it, they seem to be the only vegetation left in the field.

Management Practices

The best way to control buttercups is to think ahead and start managing your pastures months before buttercups appear and bloom in the springtime. Buttercups can take hold in bare spots in the field. Seeding your pastures, particularly those bare spots, with a variety of grass that thrives in your area, is the best ways to keep buttercups and other undesirable weeds at bay.

Overgrazing is the root of the buttercup problem for many farms. Before the grass gets grazed down to the ground, move your horses to a different field or use temporary fencing such as electric tape to section off rotating parts of the pasture to let the grass recover.

According to University of Maryland Extension, buttercup seeds germinate in late fall, so by keeping the grass in your pastures healthy throughout the summer, you’ll likely have less of a buttercup problem next year.

Keeping fields mowed won’t eliminate buttercups. However, mowing your pasture early in the buttercup bloom can help prevent them from spreading by reducing the amount of new seed produced.

Chemical Control

There are herbicides that can be used to get rid of buttercups. The ideal time to spray them is in early spring, before the buttercup bloom but after the average daytime temperature has reached 60 degrees. University of Maryland Extension offers some examples of commercial herbicides that are effective against buttercups: Banvel, Clarity, Crossbow, Forefront, Milestone and Surmount. However, many of these products will kill legumes, such as clover, which means you may be sacrificing some of the good grazing along with the bad.

Always check labeling to make sure you understand how the herbicide you’re using will affect grazing or haying. Consult your local extension office for additional guidance on what the best management practices are for your geographic area.

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Leslie Potter is a graduate of William Woods University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Equestrian Science with a concentration in saddle seat riding and a minor in Journalism/Mass Communications. She is currently a writer and photographer in Lexington, KY.Potter worked as a barn manager and riding instructor and was a freelance reporter and photographer for the Horsemen's Yankee Pedlar and Saddle Horse Report before moving to Lexington to join Horse Illustrated as Web Editor from 2008 to 2019. Her current equestrian pursuits include being a grown-up lesson kid at an eventing barn and trail riding with her senior Morgan gelding, Snoopy.


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