NFU Mutual Smallholding Insurance

Author Topic: Bracken in Hay  (Read 399 times)


  • Joined Nov 2015
Bracken in Hay
« on: February 18, 2019, 01:50:14 pm »
Hi all,

Some of my hay bales have a smattering of bracken in them -- I'd guess about 2%

(I cut and baled it myself, so I've no-one else to blame!)

I'm feeding the hay to Highland cattle. So far, I've tried picking out the bracken from the bad bales, but it's pretty time consuming!

So, does anyone know if there is a percentage of bracken that might be considered not too dangerous? 

I guess I can leave those bales til last and pick through them if I absolutely have to!


Voss Electric Fence


  • Joined Jan 2011
  • Argyll
Re: Bracken in Hay
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2019, 07:58:12 pm »
Having read a few forums it seems that dry bracken is still toxic  but your cattle may not like the taste and leave it ??. We all learn by our mistakes


  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
Re: Bracken in Hay
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2019, 08:13:59 pm »
AFAIK, it’s the spores which are carcinogenic, and the plants don’t produce spores every year.  (By any means, I think one source says a given plant or section of plants does not spore more often than once in ten years.).

I’m not sure exactly when the spores spread and so whether there might still be some spores in the hay, if any were producing spores the year you cut them.

We are told that dried bracken used to be used as animal bedding, so I’m guessing that late season bracken is probably not so much of a problem.

No answers, I’m afraid, but maybe a bit more input.  :-\
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cow, beef cattle, pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing


  • Joined Sep 2014
Re: Bracken in Hay
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2019, 08:27:39 pm »
Your cattle will pick through it if they have plenty to eat. They are much more selective than sheep and know whats not great for them.


  • Joined Jan 2011
  • Argyll
Re: Bracken in Hay
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2019, 09:07:49 pm »
Always used bracken as bedding  and so long as they had plenty of hay to eat I don't ever remember seeing them eat the bracken  when  bedding them .     I would say that sheep are far more picky than cattle , sheep won't eat grass stalks or docks  ,nettles , thistles in silage , cattle will
« Last Edit: February 19, 2019, 12:10:01 pm by shep53 »


  • Joined Nov 2015
Re: Bracken in Hay
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2019, 09:11:34 am »
Thanks all!

I'm fairly sure the actual plant is toxic, as well as having carcinogenic spores. (And I'd say that bracken produces spores every year -- I've never seen a bracken patch that didn't produce spores.)  I read somewhere that the most toxic stage is the young fiddlehead (which is before spore production)

I think if the bracken were in whole fronds the cattle might be able to pick through and leave it, but often its in quite fine bits that are intimately mixed with the grass.

I'm going to try and play it safe for now.

Thanks again :-)


  • Joined Jan 2011
  • Argyll
Re: Bracken in Hay
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2019, 12:10:23 pm »


  • Joined Feb 2012
Re: Bracken in Hay
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2019, 02:26:44 pm »

Round here people bedded cattle on bracken, some still do. I ran had a trekking centre for over 20 years. Ponies snacked on bracken on rides for years. They have lived long lives. They have to eat more than a certain percentage in their diet I believe. Exmoors and Dartmoors eat the early shoots without problem as do the Japanese.

I think they would be fine but it's your decision and if it is worrying you don't feed.


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