Reminder: Yew plant is poisonous and even fatal; 4-H’ers learn hard way


SALEM, Ohio — A Salem family lost three beef cows June 5, two of which were 4-H cows, due to accidental yew poisoning.

The cows were owned by Aaron and Alex Courtney, of Salem, members of the Windy Farmers 4-H Club. Two of the animals were dairy beef feeders and the third was an 800-pound Angus.

“It’s really sad,” said Greg Courtney, father of Aaron and Alex.

Didn’t know

He said the family trimmed the shrubbery around the house June 4 and threw the trimmings, which included the yew plant, over the fence into the pasture without realizing what could happen.

“We just didn’t give it a thought,” said Courtney.

Courtney said the boys went out to feed at 6 a.m. before school and the cows were fine, eating their grain. Then he went out around 8:30 a.m. and found them in the pasture.

“It looks like they were walking along and just fell over,” said Courtney.


The Courtneys’ veterinarian, Dr. David Smith, said he has cases of this happen every few years.

He said the taxine in the yew plant is the dangerous part. The amount the cows eat determine if it is fatal to them.

Still thankful

Courtney said Aaron, 14, and Alex, 15 are sick about losing their dairy beef feeders for the Columbiana County Fair, but are thankful they still have their hog projects for this fair season.

“You just don’t think anything like this will happen,” said Courtney. “We simply didn’t know that the yew plant was toxic. It was a bad mistake.”

According to Ohio State University Extension, yew is planted because it is evergreen, adaptable to sun or shade, easily survives root pruning as a ball and burlap transplant, and is extremely adaptable to a wide variety of harsh urban conditions (including drought, poor soils, and compacted soils.

The yew plant is deadly to horses, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs and even some fowl, according to Cornell University.

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