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Black cherry trees dangerous for livestock

By Clay Stamm

Black cherry trees grow in abundance across Kentucky’s landscape.

These trees are an important timber and wildlife species, yet can cause cyanide poisoning in livestock. The leaves of the trees, especially wilted ones, are high in cyanic acid, which can kill livestock by depriving them of oxygen.

Research indicates the lethal dose for sheep/cattle can be as little as 1 to 4 grams of plant material per kilogram of body weight. In simpler terms, a 1,200-pound cow, consuming 1 to 5 pounds of wilted black cherry leaves could be a lethal dose.

You can reduce the likelihood of livestock losses because of wild black cherry trees by cutting them out of fencerows.

You may want to remove cherry trees that pose a risk, such as those that could potentially be damaged by a storm or are in poor condition that could end up in a livestock pasture. But you can leave healthy, well-pruned trees to become a potential timber source.

If you have a wild cherry limb or tree fall into your livestock pasture during a storm, or anytime for that matter, some precautions should be taken to ensure the animals safety.

There is no set timeline for the drying processes of black cherry leaves. The time these leaves remain in the “wilt” stage when poisoning is possible depends on a number of factors including, tree size, weather conditions and location of the tree.

For this reason, it is imperative either the tree be removed from the pasture where livestock is present immediately or the animals be relocated to an area where they will not have access to the downed tree.

Animals should not be allowed in contact with any amount of wilted or wilting black cherry leaves until they are completely brown and dried up, containing no moisture.

Summer storms that produce downed trees, especially black cherry trees, can be extremely hazardous to livestock.

For more information on cherry trees and livestock, contact the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service.

Clay Stamm is the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources.

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