News & Media

Watch for rattlepod plants

Released on

Released on:
Wednesday, 16. January 2013 - 12:00

The Department of Agriculture and Food is reminding pastoralists in the Kimberley to check for rattlepod plants that can cause ‘walkabout disease’ in horses.

Department senior veterinary officer Bob Vassallo said rattlepods (Crotalaria spp.) were sweet for horses to eat in the Kimberley at this time of year, and could prove lethal for them.

“Some rattlepods are known to contain alkaloids that cause liver damage,” Dr Vassallo said.

“These alkaloids are cumulative poisons, so toxins can build up in the animals’ systems over time. The resulting damage is commonly known as ‘walkabout disease’ because the affected horses can appear blind and wander aimlessly. By the time an animal is showing signs of the disease, it may be too late to take action to save it.

“We have had several rattlepod identification queries from across the Kimberley in the last week.  People with horses on pastoral leases should check their paddocks for these plants.”

Signs of the disease can include food refusal, jaundice, colic, abdominal swelling and nervous signs such as twitching and compulsive walking.

People can also refer to the department’s most recent Rangelands Memo for a description of the signs of walkabout disease.

Dr Vassallo said removing rattlepod plants from the horse paddock might be the only option for preventing the disease.

Kununurra development officer Kath Ryan said other common rattlepods believed to affect horses included New Holland rattlepod, wedgeleaf rattlepod and trefoil rattlepod.

“By now, most rattlepod plants have flowered and set seed already, so hand-pulling will be more effective than the application of herbicides,” she said.

Ms Ryan said staff at department local district offices could help identify rattlepod plants and provide advice for short and long-term management of rattlepod plants and native pastures.

The department’s Rangelands Memo is available on the website.


Media contacts: Jodie Thomson, media liaison  +61 8 9368 3937