Noxious weed seed easily spread by pets

Houndstongue, a problem in the county, is poisonous to some livestock

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— Taking the dog out for a hike in the forest or a visit to the ranch without a good brushing prior to the trip can aid the spread of a poisonous noxious weed.

A type of burr that commonly gets stuck in the coats of animals and in people's clothes is actually the seed pod of a noxious weed called Houndstongue, which is poisonous to some livestock.

"It's accumulated poison," said Matt Custer, Routt County weed supervisor. "It will be (lethal) once the animal eats 5 to 10 percent of their body weight."

But that's not in one sitting. When the animal eats the lethal amount over a period of time, which can be as long as a year or more, it could die.

Custer said horses and cattle are most susceptible to the poison, while sheep are more resilient to it. There are no studies on its affect to wild game. But the plant is lethal to animals with a four-chamber stomach, which includes deer and elk, Custer said. The real danger to livestock with houndstongue is when the weed grows undetected in hay fields and gets included with a hay harvest.

"In Routt County, it's a significant problem with all the hay that is grown here," Custer said.

The result can be that an entire hay harvest can be ruined because houndstongue was found in it, which can be a financial pitfall for some agricultural producers.

Along with the noxious weed's toxic liabilities, houndstongue is an invasive species of plant. It's not native to the United States and has no natural predators. Like every other noxious weed, it has no nutritional value, is able to take over the territory of native plants and is difficult to control, Custer said.

That makes it dangerous to the forest because it has the potential of dominating native plants, which provide food for wild game, he said.

Routt County Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said houndstongue is found at trail heads, on the side of the road, in vacant lots and most other places where humans have been.

"It's one of the most widespread weeds in the county," Mucklow said.

While many of the other noxious weeds exist only in urban parts of the county, Mucklow said houndstongue is all over the place.

A reason for that is the weed's ability to spread by using the burrs, which make dogs and their owners unknowing spreaders of houndstongue.

"That's why it's all over the place," Mucklow said. "It sticks to dogs and it sticks to you and me."

The burr is about one-quarter of an inch long, brown and oval shaped. The houndstongue plant is biennial meaning it has a two-year growth cycle. The leaves are rough and hairy and feel like a dog's tongue hence its name.

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