Making sure stock have alternative feed can help farmers avoid problems associated with a weed that has an attractive name but some very unpleasant effects.
Department of Agriculture District Veterinary Officer Roy Butler said marshmallow poisoning, or marshmallow staggers occurs in sheep, cattle and horses that eat too much of the marshmallow or small flowered mallow plant.
With poisoning happening most commonly in late winter or early spring Mr Butler has warned stockowners against the dangers. Poultry that eat marshmallow seeds and leaves are not visibly affected, but their eggs may develop abnormalities.
³Marshmallow is a weed introduced from Europe,² said Mr Butler.
³It is commonly found growing along roadsides, in neglected gardens, around buildings, chicken runs and especially in stockyards. In recent years, perhaps associated with reduced cultivation, it has become more common in pastures, especially those bared by drought or overgrazing.
³Marshmallow is not palatable to livestock and they generally only consume it when hungry and they have no alternative feed.
³Signs typically occur after animals have been eating a diet which is all or mostly marshmallow. This may occur after stock have spent a night in yards full of marshmallow, or after some weeks grazing pasture where marshmallow is dominant feed source.
³Affected animals are reluctant to walk, taking short steps and moving stiffly with back arched. They become more distressed, eventually stopping and lying down. They remain relaxed and do not convulse as do sheep affected with annual ryegrass toxicity.
³If left alone, most animals make a full recovery. If forced to move, they will lie down again after a shorter distance. In a mob of ewes and lambs, only the lambs may be affected. Deaths are rare.
³There is no treatment for marshmallow poisoning, other than rest. Do not force affected animals to move, but leave them undisturbed, sitting up and not flat on their sides.
"To avoid the problem, don¹t put hungry stock into yards or paddocks infested with marshmallow,² Mr Butler said.
³If that is unavoidable, provide alternative feed, such as hay, both before and while stock have access to the marshmallow.²
For more information people are advised to consult their local vet or agronomist.