Poisonous plants for goats

Toxic plants

Many pastures grazed by cattle, sheep and goats contain potentially toxic plants. In small amounts, some of these plants are tolerated well by livestock. If grazed to excess or under particular conditions, poisonings can occur.

However, some plants are toxic even in small amounts. Other plant toxins can be cumulative, with damage to internal organs developing over time.

It is important that producers are able to recognise the plants in their area that are toxic to livestock.

Examples of potentially toxic plants grazed by livestock in Australia include:

  • Paterson’s curse
  • Perennial ryegrass
  • Pimelea
  • St John’s wort

Some poisonings by toxic plants have highly visible consequences, while others remain silent for weeks or months. Where, in the absence of a drought or seasonal feed shortage, there has been a dramatic change in the condition of animals, producers should suspect that disease, including poisoning by toxic plants, may be present. If this is the case a veterinary investigation should be carried out.

With all diseases, nutritional deficiencies and poisonings by toxic plants, assess the risk based on previous local district history.

Managing poisoning risk from toxic plants

  • Toxic plants may include pastures species at certain growth stages, native species and garden plants.
  • The relative toxicity of plants may vary according to season and the stage of plant growth:
    • Wilting in dry conditions and rapid growth after rain can increase the toxicity of some plants.
    • Applying fertiliser to promote lush growth may increase toxicity.
    • Some plants may only be toxic when growing in particular soil types.
    • Stressful growth conditions, such as drought or insect attack, may cause toxins to concentrate in a plant.
    • Plant parts can vary in their relative toxicity.
  • Herbicide treatments can increase the palatability of plants.
  • When livestock are hungry they may gorge themselves on things that they would not normally eat. Do not introduce hungry livestock to areas when toxic plants are known to be growing.
  • Livestock grazing in a particular area for extended periods may become accustomed to eating small amounts of toxic plant material. New mobs introduced to the same area will not have the same tolerance.

More information

  • Module 6: Herd health and welfare from MLA’s More Beef from Pastures
  • Module 7: Nutrition from MLA’s Going into goats: Profitable producer’s best practice guide
  • The MLA publication: Weed control using goats
  • More information on weeds and other toxic plants is available on the following State Department websites:
    • Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation
    • New South Wales Department of Industry & Investment
    • Department of Primary Industries Victoria
    • Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment
    • Northern Territory Department of Resources – Primary Industries

There are several plants that can be poisonous to goats. However, the severity of plant poisoning depends on the quantity of the plant that was eaten, the amount of ground moisture, the health of the animal prior to consuming the toxic plant, and the size and age of the animal that consumed the plant.
Under normal circumstances, animals will not consume poisonous plants. However, there are some factors that might cause goats to eat poisonous plants. Those factors include starvation, unbalanced rations, overgrazing and drought, allowing animals to have access to yard waste or newly plowed areas where roots from toxic plants are exposed, allowing the herd to have access to dry or partially dry water hoses, incidental ingestion of toxic plants, and just plain curiosity.
Some examples of poisonous plants include azaleas, China berries, sumac, dog fennel, bracken fern, curly dock, eastern baccharis, honeysuckle, nightshade, pokeweed, red root pigweed, black cherry, Virginia creeper, and crotalaria. Please see Goat Pastures Poisonous Plants.

Milkweed is a perennial that often bears blossoms and fruit at the same time. The plant may be 0.5-1.0 meters high. Greenish-white flowers are borne in umbrella-like clusters. Leaves may be narrow or broad. Leaves or other above-ground parts of the plant are poisonous. They contain several glucosidic substances called cardenolides that are toxic. Milkweed may cause losses at any time, but it is most dangerous during the active growing season.

Several species of milkweed are poisonous to range animals. Labriform milkweed (Asclepias labriformis) is the most toxic. Other species in order of toxicity include western whorled milkweed (A.subverticillata), woollypod milkweed (A. eriocarpa), and Mexican whorled milkweed (A. fascicularis).

Milkweed poisoning occurs frequently in sheep and cattle and occasionally in horses. Most livestock losses are a result of hungry animals being concentrated around milkweed-infested corrals, bed grounds, and driveways. Poisoning also may occur if animals are fed hay containing large amounts of milkweed.

Where and When It Grows
Milkweed is often found in sandy soils of plains and foothills. It grows on ranges and abandoned farms, along roadsides, in pastures, in ditches, and in waste places. This plant gets its name from the milky juice that oozes out quickly when any plant part is broken. The plant starts growing in the early spring.

How It Affects Livestock
An average-sized sheep that eats 30-100 gms of green leaves of one of the more toxic species is likely to die of poisoning. It may die within a few hours or live 2 to 4 days. Although many milkweeds contain resinoids, most of the ones that cause fatal poisonings contain cardenolides (cardiac glycosides). These cardenolides are similar to digoxin causing electrolyte balances in heart muscle resulting in arrhythmias and cardiac failure.

Signs and Lesions of Poisoning

  • Depression, weakness, and staggered gait
  • Difficulty in breathing with expiratory grunting sounds
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Rapid, weak pulse or other cardiac arrhythmias
  • Loss of muscular control
  • Elevated temperature
  • Violent spasms
  • Bloating
  • Respiratory paralysis
  • Congestion of visceral organs
  • Renal tubular degradation and necrosis
  • Gastroenteritis

    How to Reduce Losses
    Animals usually do not eat milkweed unless good forage is scarce or under conditions where plants freeze, etc. Livestock owners can reduce losses by keeping sheep out of milkweed along stock driveways when bands are trailed from one range to another. Supplemental feeding usually is beneficial during trailing. Hay contaminated with milkweed should not be fed to sheep or cattle. Milkweeds can be controlled with 2,4-D plus picloram (0.5 kg ae/Ac) or glyphosate at a spot spray. Follow all precautions for handling herbicides.

  • Poisonous Plants to Livestock

    Meat Goat Notes

    Cyanogenetic Plants (glucosides, glycosides)

    Skip to Cyanogenetic Plants (glucosides, glycosides)

    These contain under certain conditions, prussic acid (hydrocyanic acid), a deadly poison that interferes with the oxygen-carrying ability of the blood. Death in these cases is usually rapid and with little outward symptoms. Members of the prunus family of plants, especially wild cherries, are dangerous. Peaches, plums, wild cherry, and other stone fruits belong to this group of plants. Wilting of the green leaves caused by frost, storm damage, or by cutting, changes a glucoside (glycoside) found in the leaves to hydrocyanic acid (HCN) and sugar. The sweet, wilted leaves are thus more attractive to animals than normal foliage. Hydrocyanic acid content varies widely, but under some conditions a few handfuls of leaves may be enough to kill a horse or cow. This type of poisoning should be suspected when sudden death of animals follows windstorms or early sharp frosts. These leaves apparently lose their poison after they have become dry; the limp, green or partially yellowed leaves are the most dangerous.

    These trees do not have to be directly growing in the paddocks where the animals graze. Small branches and leaves broken off and blown by winds during a tornado, a hurricane or a strong storm can land in a pasture, wilt and become very dangerous to livestock ingesting them.

    Sudan grass and sorghums are also cyanogenetic plants. These plants are usually deadly when damaged or frozen. Aftermath sprouts following an early frost are particularly dangerous. Very little sudan grass poisoning occurs from animals trampling down plants and later eating them although this is often listed as dangerous. In dry weather, sudan grass is often pastured to the ground without ill effects. After sudan grass has been repeatedly frozen and the plants are completely dead, it is safe but not very valuable for pasture.

    Once frozen, sorghum, sorghum sudan hybrids, or their aftermath should never be pastured. As long as the plants show any green color they may be very poisonous. Both frosted sorghum and sudan grass can be best and most safely utilized by ensiling them for at least two weeks before feeding. Normal ensilage fermentation safely eliminates the poisonous principle.

    Common milkweed, a perennial that grows three or four feet high, has a heavy stem and leaves and is frequently found in pastures. The milky white sap is sticky and has a bitter taste but livestock eat the topmost, tender leaves if good forage isn’t abundant. Remove plants by spading, pulling, cutting or plowing extensive areas and planting to cultivated crops for a year or two.

    Horse nettle is a perennial plant, two-feet-high, with spiny stems and leaves, and smooth, orange-yellow berries. Fruits are more toxic than the foliage. It’s a common plant in grasslands and fields and is a member of the nightshade family.

    Black nightshade is an annual plant, two-feet high, with many branches. Leaves are variably smooth or hairy. The stems are angled in cross-section and sometimes spiny. Clusters of white flowers, one-fourth inch across, bloom in midsummer and are followed by small, black fruits. Both the foliage and green berries are toxic. The ripe berries are not poisonous. Black nightshade is widely distributed.

    Mountain laurels and rhododendrons are evergreen shrubs of the Appalachian Mountain region. Plants grow five-feet tall and have glossy green leaves. Flowers appear in clusters at the ends of branches. Livestock eat the leaves in early spring when little other foliage is available. Piedmont Azaleas are deciduous plants of the Piedmont. Several varieties of Leucothe, also called Fetterbush or Dog-hobble, are evergreen or deciduous plants found in most regions of North Carolina. Weakness, nausea, salivation and vomiting are symptoms of poisoning. The preventative is to keep livestock out of areas where these plants are abundant.

    Not all plants are wholesome for foraging animals.

    Certain species of milkweed, for example, that are highly valued as host plants for the dwindling monarch butterfly population, are extremely poisonous to pets and to range animals like sheep, cattle and goats. Even free-ranging chickens aren’t immune. Among potentially toxic poultry pickings are castor beans and certain mushrooms, although chickens don’t eat them as readily as do animals.

    Plant toxicity is directly related to dosage. How many were eaten, how healthy was the animal, how long do the toxins persist and what can be done?

    Some plants, like water hemlock, “can kill a cow in 15 minutes, while others, like buttercups, just leave a burning sensation in their mouths or tongues,” said Donna Foulk, an Extension educator with Penn State University.

    Ornamental plants either in or outside the home are frequently toxic, she said.

    Animal poisoning can be tough to diagnose, but symptoms range from difficulty breathing to refusing food, blistering and skin lesions to dizziness and diarrhea. Call a vet immediately if such conditions arise.

    Many weed varieties aren’t toxic unless environmental conditions make them so. “If plants pick up a lot of nitrogens from rain and rapid growth, and animals eat a lot of them, they can die,” said Mark Renz, a University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension weed scientist.

    The problem becomes even more acute during dry weather when pasture grasses go dormant and troublesome but persistent weeds become more enticing as fodder.

    Most of those weeds are unpalatable to animal taste buds but often are eaten when dried and mixed with other materials, like in a hay bale.

    “I know of a case where a llama died from eating baled hay that had milkweed in it,” Renz said.

    Pet owners may know that daffodil, tulip and hyacinth bulbs can be potentially poisonous to weed-grazing dogs, while Asiatic lilies can cause kidney failure in plant-eating cats.

    But people new to small scale or urban farming may not be aware that the roots and seeds of cabbage and broccoli can trigger digestive problems in pigs; foxglove or digitalis can produce irregular heart rates and rhythms in horses; rhubarb and tomato leaves can cause neurological damage to rabbits; iris rootstocks can result in breathing problems and scours in cattle; and as few as three medium to large oleander leaves can be lethal to llamas.

    What can be done to limit plant poison risks?

    “Try to know what’s out there — what’s toxic, and their symptoms,” Renz said.

    Additional suggestions from a Penn State University fact sheet:

    — Keep animals healthy by maintaining good nutrition.

    — Eliminate or fence around any poisonous plants or trees in and adjacent to pastures.

    — Mow pastures to reduce weeds.

    — Do not throw garden or lawn clippings into pastures and do not plant trees, ornamental shrubs or plants near barns or pastures.

    It can be risky to let dogs and cats wander around lawns or gardens after herbicides and pesticides have been applied. “But in most urban settings, most of the chemicals have been tested and are fairly innocuous,” Renz said.

    How to Protect Your Goats from Poisonous Plants

    By Cheryl K. Smith

    Goats will eat almost anything, but you must guard against your goats eating poisonous plants. Goats ignore poisonous plants most of the time, but because of their need to browse, they may try them just for variety. Whether a goat that eats a poisonous plant shows signs of poisoning depends on how much of the plant it eats, what part of the plant it eats, the condition of the plant (fresh or dried), the time of year, and the size and health of the goat.

    Some of the common poisonous plants that might grow in your pasture or backyard include:

    • Weeds

      • Bracken fern

      • Buttercup

      • Common milkweed

      • Foxglove

      • Lantana

      • Locoweed

      • Poke weed

      • Spurge

      • St. John’s Wort

      • Water hemlock and poison hemlock

    • Trees

      • Cyanide-producing trees such as cherry, chokecherry, elderberry, and plum (especially the wilted leaves from these trees)

      • Ponderosa pine

      • Yew

    • Cultivated plants

      • Azalea

      • Kale

      • Lily of the valley

      • Oleander

      • Poppy

      • Potato

      • Rhododendron

      • Rhubarb

    Many landscaping plants are poisonous, and a few are so deadly that even a few leaves can make your goat extremely sick. Don’t believe the old wives’ tale that goats always know which plants are poisonous. Before you bring your goats home, check your yard for poisonous plants. The best resource for doing so is A Guide to Plant Poisoning of Animals in North America (Teton New Media), by Anthony P. Knight and Richard Walter. You can find many chapters of it online at the http://www.ivis.org). If your goats can get their heads through a fence to the neighbor’s yard, make sure that poisonous plants aren’t growing within reach there.

    If you find any of these plants, either remove them or make sure that your fencing will keep your goats away. If the poison plant is a tree, make sure that the leaves won’t fall into the pen in the autumn by removing the tree or situating the pen far from the tree. Dried leaves can be the most deadly part of the tree.

    You usually don’t need to freak out if one of your goats eats a little taste of any of these plants or trees, but you do need to keep an eye on him in case he shows signs of sickness.

    Talk to your neighbors about poisonous plants and ask them not to throw their garden trimmings into the yard as a treat for your goats without asking first.

    • Acorns (in moderation)
    • Agapanthas
    • Althea
    • Angel Wing Bigoneas
    • Apple
    • Arborvita
    • Avocado*- Mexican Avocado leaves/trees such Pinkerton might not be (*note-South American Avocado leaves ARE poisonous)
    • Bamboo
    • Banana, entire plant, fruit & peel
    • Barkcloth fig (ficus natalensis)
    • Bay Tree Leaves green and dried
    • Bean (all parts)
    • Beets, leaves and root
    • Blackberry bushes (all parts)
    • Black Locus (we had quite a few of these until our goats ate them all)
    • Bramble
    • Broccoli (all parts)
    • Buckbrush (aka coralberry or indian currant)
    • Cabbage
    • Camellias
    • Cantaloupe: fruit, seeds and peel
    • Collard Greens
    • Carrots
    • Catnip
    • Cedar Needles (leaves) & Bark
    • Celery
    • Citrus
    • Clover
    • Comfrey
    • Corn husks & silk
    • Cottonwood
    • Coyote Bush (Baccharis)
    • Dandelion
    • Douglas Fir
    • Dogwood
    • Elm
    • English Ivy (we feed lvy trimming all the time; they love it)
    • Fava Bean pods
    • Fern
    • Fescue grass
    • Ficus
    • Garlic
    • Ginger Root
    • Grape, entire plants
    • Grape Vine
    • Grapefruit, fruit & peel
    • Greenbrier
    • Hay Plant
    • Heavenly Bamboo
    • Hemlock Trees (which are not the same as the poisonous hemlock, an herbaceous species of plant which is in the carrot family that bears the scientific name “Conium maculatum”)
    • Hibiscus
    • Honeysuckle, entire plant (goats love honeysuckle)
    • Hyssop
    • Ivy
    • Jackfruit leaves
    • Jade
    • Jambolan leaves
    • Japanese Elm
    • Japanese Knotweed aka: polygonum cuspidatum aka: fallopia japonica.
    • Japanese Magnolias (blooms/leaves)
    • Johoba
    • Kudzu
    • Lantana – appears on both lists
    • Lilac bark /branches
    • Lupine – appears on both lists: Seeds are the part of the plant that are the greatest problem.
    • Magnolia Leaves green and dried
    • Mango leaves
    • Manzanita (Arctostaphylos)
    • Maple Trees, leaves & bark – (goats will readily strip the bark and kill the tree)
      NOT Red Maples (Red Maples can be toxic)
    • Marijuana-in moderation
    • Mesquite
    • Mint
    • Mock Orange
    • Monkeyflower (Mimulus)
    • Mountain Ash (excellent goat forage tree)
    • Morning Glory
    • Moss
    • Mulberry (entire plant)
    • Mullein
    • Mustard
    • Nettles
    • Nightshade – appears on both lists:-not edible in the fall
    • Lemon Grass
    • Oak Tree Leaves
    • Okara- pulp left over after making Soymilk
    • Onion
    • Orange, fruit & peel
    • Paloverde – needles & seed pods
    • Patterson’s Curse
    • Pea Pods
    • Peanuts, including the shells
    • Pear
    • Pencil cactus
    • Peppers
    • Pepper plants
    • Photinia
    • Pine Trees (we had hundreds of small trees until our goats ate them all)
    • Plum, all
    • PrivetPumpkin
    • Poison Ivy
    • Poison Oak
    • Poison Sumac, the vine
    • Pomegranates
    • Poplar Trees
    • Potatoes
    • Raisins
    • Raspberry, entire plant (goats loves raspberry)
    • Red-tips
    • Rose, all, entire plant (goats loves roses)
    • Rhubarb Leaves
    • Salvation Jane
    • Sassafras
    • Silver Berry
    • Southern Bayberry (myrica cerifera)
    • Spruce trees
    • Sumac, the tree
    • Sunflowers
    • St. John’s Wort (can cause sun sensitivity in light skinned goats)
    • Strawberry
    • Sweet Gum Trees
    • Sweet potato leaves
    • Tomatoes (cherry tomatoes make wonderful treats)
    • Tomato plants- in moderation (mine eat them with no problems)
    • Tree of Heaven
    • Turnips
    • Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria)
    • Yarrow
    • Yellow Locus
    • Yucca
    • Vetch
    • Virginia Creeper
    • Wandering Jew
    • Watermelon
    • Wax Myrtle (myrica cerifera)
    • Weeping Willow
    • Wild Rose, entire plant (goats loves roses)
    • Wild Tobacco

    Poisonous Plants for Goats: Avoiding Dastardly Disasters

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    by Katherine Drovdahl MH CR CA CEIT DipHIr QTP

    Do you have poisonous plants for goats on your property? Check this list then consult your extension office to find what else may be local.

    Darn it. My normally well-behaved thirteen-year-old LaMancha, Timmie, had wandered past her normal snack of salal and Oregon grape leaves. Gazing at the edge of my yard as I headed to the house for a quick errand, I found fresh bite marks and missing sections of leaves on a rhododendron. I knew I couldn’t ignore this.

    I grabbed my cayenne and DTox and went to work within just minutes of her forbidden salad consumption. Other than being a bit more tired/sleepy than normal for the following 24 hours, we had her back up to normal speed in less than a day without any other symptoms. And yes, the barnyard is being fenced in this spring. Meanwhile, Timmie is on barn arrest, even though the incident was 100% my fault for trusting a goat to stay out of them!

    What Goats Can Eat Guide
    — Yours FREE!

    Did you know that goats can overeat leaves, twigs, and acorns? There a many factors to consider when feeding healthy goats and we’ve compiled them all into a handy guide.

    Nowhere can we find an “all-inclusive” list of toxic or poisonous plants for goats, and most of those lists will be generalized for all livestock or specific livestock. Reader Kristen Fife provided this highly curated list from Cornell University. I will go over just a few to watch out for. Your local veterinarian, county extension office and your state or local jurisdiction veterinary college can give you a list of additional problem plants often found in your area.

    Knowing what to feed goats involves education. Even good plants can develop into a dangerous toxic condition called enterotoxemia if goats overeat on any plant they are not used to. I avoid problems by taking ten days to change feeds or slowly introduce new ones, as well as examining all hay for unknown or known problem plants. I also make sure that my greedy goats are well fed in their paddock in the morning before they are allowed out in their pasture, to reduce the likelihood of overeating on something. In addition, I do not feed brush from friends or neighbors, as it is too easy to have offending plants mixed in.

    Mushrooms are usually only ingested if they are mixed in grass clippings from weed-eating or mowing. Do your goats a favor and compost clippings, rather than feed them, to avoid mushroom and mold hepatocidal (liver death) properties.

    Yew is a beautiful coniferous small, green-needled tree that is popular in landscaping and is an American native. Just one bite of needles can stop a heart in seconds to minutes, which is why you won’t find it at our farm. Be watchful at livestock exhibitions, as this plant can be in displays in and near barns.

    Water hemlock (Conium maculatum) flowers look similar to Queen Anne’s Lace.

    Poison hemlock (and also water hemlock) is extremely dangerous. Children have even perished from making straws from its stem. All parts of this plant are poisonous, whether fresh or dry. Poison hemlock prefers moist areas and can show up as a single plant to large groups and can be from several inches tall in a garden bed to four feet. Spring is when this parsley-looking, white-umbel-flowered plant with a smooth, vascular (open like a straw) stem that will be streaked, filled or spotted with purple. I occasionally find a plant or two coming up in my garden or my flower bed and have had it lining pastures. Always wear rubber gloves when pulling this plant and don’t breathe the volatile oils. Stop if you smell the musty, mousy scent when you pull it. Poison hemlock works by shutting down the nervous system, causing communication to the heart, lungs, and brain to slow down to nothing. Do not confuse this plant with the medicinal, valuable herb and feed plant Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot. That plant has a solid, thinner, and thicker-density hairy stem, without any purple on the stems. It likes dry areas and comes up in summer. The telltale way to identify this plant is to look at the inflorescence (flowers). A central crimson-colored flower will be surrounded by white flowers.

    Rhododendrons and azaleas are popular evergreen, spring-blooming landscape shrubs that are also native to the Northwest. They can be from a foot tall to cabin-sized and are very poisonous plants for goats. The leaves and flowers (and honey made from the pollen) cause a decrease in blood pressure and irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), nausea and vomiting. I do not know the dosage, but it does not take a lot of “rhody” leaves to kill a goat. And if you are unable to get them turned around, they will suffer in the process. They tend to be attracted to the glossy leaves, so this is another plant to fence off from wayward goats. A friend of mine lost several goats last year when they ended up at a neighbor’s and mowed down several plants. With a lot of work, she also saved several.

    There are many landscaping plants and flowers that are poisonous plants for goats. Some of those are boxwood, cotoneaster, all types of laurels, oleander, many types of lupines (bluebonnets), larkspur, delphinium, daffodils & narcissus.

    Consuming a quantity of green leaves, acorns or blossoms on black, red or yellow oak trees can be disastrous. They are very high in tannins and can cause liver and kidney damage, leading to death. Oak leaves, piling up in stock waters, can leach enough tannins to cause the same problems. My well-fed goats used to eat fall leaves and acorns from white oaks without problems other than reducing their milk production because white oak still has a tannin content, but not as high as the others. They did not have access to the green leaves of white oaks, which would also cause a problem. There were about 30 goats fighting for a few fallen leaves after their morning feeding and milking. I certainly wouldn’t have let them eat all they could of those, either.

    Dried or wilted maple leaves of all types can cause Hemolytic Anemia, which is a condition causing the destruction of red blood cells in the bloodstream. Red maples are the worst offenders because of the number of leaves they can dump in a single day, but many types of maples, in the right conditions, have caused problems. We removed a giant old red maple from our pasture when we moved here. It’s made lovely firewood and a section of the base is in our goat pen for a climbing toy.

    Leaves in any stage of wilt from prunus species plants are cyanogenic. Goats usually get into this problem when a pit fruit plant has leaves fall or blow in, or a branch come down, into their pen or pasture. Consumption causes oxygen in the bloodstream to be unusable, which causes suffocation. Cherries, plums, prunes, peaches, nectarines, pluots, apricots, and chokecherry in wild or domestic forms are all offenders. I do give my goats fresh prunings of these plants. Fresh means I cut 3 or 4 branches at a time and toss them in the pen. And I only toss enough in for them to eat within 10 minutes and they need to clear out all of the leaves. I don’t have remaining leaves, feeding this way, but if I did I would handpick them and put them in the compost or burn pile. If I get distracted by a phone call or anything else and am standing a few minutes, those branches become kindling or find the burn pile.

    Ponderosa pine needles can cause abortion in ruminants if enough is consumed. Because goats are attracted to pine needles, and because they can be available in large quantities on the ground in the winter months when there isn’t much else to munch on, I would want to eliminate any ponderosa in my pasture if possible. If you want to plant pine, there are literally dozens of species to choose from that are not known to cause this problem.

    Bracken or Brake ferns are tall & thick-stemmed ferns that contain a toxin that is accumulative in nature. It is an endorphin-causing plant, so animals get addicted to it. Goats tend to overdose on it faster than other animals, since they, by nature, are already attracted to brush. They should never have access to this plant. Get rid of it or fence them out of it. Bracken is guilty of causing severe anemia from hemorrhaging. It is also a carcinogen and can cause thiamine deficiency, which leads to polioencephalomalacia (goat polio) in goats, which is a fatal goat disease without intervention.

    Leaves and fruit indicative of a nightshade plant.

    Tomato leaves, stems & blooms (uppers), green potato skins, and upper plant parts from datura and nightshade plants all contain concentrations of alkaloids. These alkaloids can cause toxicity from eating a very little of some (such as datura) or, more frequently or in a large quantity, of others such as tomato leaves and greened potato skins. Early symptoms are confusion, overheating, vision issues which can head into convulsions, coma and then death.

    Rhubarb leaves should never be fed to anything in any quantity, due to their kidney-destroying compounds like an extremely high level of oxalic acid.

    Besides eliminating all the toxic plants you can from your goat’s environment, there are some other precautions to reduce the likelihood of problems when caring for goats. First, we make sure our goats are always well fed, every morning, while they are contained in their paddock. Also, make sure they always have access to minerals such as kelp to avoid deficiencies that could get them seeking weird plants to fill an unmet need. We have eliminated toxic plants and trees near pastures as well as fenced animals away from problem plants. I’ve even removed productive prunus species fruit trees (ouch) that were next to goat pens.

    Here’s to happy and healthy goats!

    What other poisonous plants for goats are specific to your area and climate? Let us know and help other readers.

    Katherine lives with her beloved husband, gardens, and creatures near the Olympic mountains in Washington state. She gives wellness consultations and offers herb products for animals online through Fir Meadow LLC. She is a lifelong pet and livestock owner and carries a Master’s Degree in herbalism and alternative degrees/certifications in aromatherapy, iridology, and energy medicine.

    Katherine Drovdahl authors Kat’s Caprine Corner of Goat Journal, focusing on the holistic side of caring for goats. Do you have a goat health question? Email them to [email protected] and they may be used in our next print issue.

    Plants Goats Can’t Eat – Are Any Plants Poisonous To Goats

    Goats have the reputation of being able to stomach almost anything; in fact, they’re commonly used for weed control in landscapes, but are there any plants poisonous to goats? The truth is there are quite a number of plants goats can’t eat. It’s important to learn to recognize plants that are toxic to goats and how to address the symptoms. Read on to learn about poisonous plants for goats to avoid.

    Are Any Plants Poisonous to Goats?

    There are more than 700 species of plants in the United States that have been recognized as causing toxicity in ruminants. Plants dangerous to goats are more likely to be ingested when the animals are near starvation and eat plants they normally would avoid; however, that isn’t the only time a goat will feed on toxic plant life.

    Goats are often used in the clearing of woodlands and wetlands, thus exposing them to casual ingestion of plants that are toxic to goats. Sometimes hay contains dried toxic weeds which can poison a goat. Poisonous plants for goats may also be eaten when they are allowed to feed on landscape or garden plants.

    Poisonous Plants for Goats

    There are few plants goats can’t eat; the more important consideration is those they shouldn’t eat. Not every poisonous plant is deadly, as many have various levels of toxicity causing different effects. Some can be immediate while others may be cumulative and build up in the body over time. The type of poisonous plant and the amount the animal has ingested will determine the level of toxicity.

    Plants toxic to goats that should be avoided include:

    Garden/Landscape Plants

    • Black Cohosh
    • Bloodroot
    • Carolina Jessamine
    • Celandine
    • Poppy
    • Bleeding Heart
    • Fumewort
    • Hellebore
    • Larkspur
    • Lupine
    • Corn Cockle
    • Ivy
    • Lily of the Valley
    • Milkweed
    • White Snakeroot
    • Lantana
    • Sneezeweed
    • St. John’s Wort
    • Wolfsbane/Monkshood
    • Dutchman’s Breeches/Staggerweed
    • Parsnips


    • Boxwood
    • Carolina Allspice
    • Oleander
    • Rhododendron
    • Wild Black Cherry
    • Wild Hydrangea
    • Black Locust
    • Buckeye
    • Cherry
    • Chokecherry
    • Elderberry
    • Laurel


    • Johnson Grass
    • Sorghum
    • Sudangrass

    • Velvetgrass
    • Buckwheat
    • Rape/Rapeseed
    • Nightshade
    • Poison Hemlock
    • Rattleweed
    • Horsenettle
    • Indian Poke
    • Jimsonweed
    • Death Camas
    • Water Hemlock

    Additional plants dangerous to goats that are not likely to cause a severe reaction but may make the animal uncomfortable include:

    • Baneberry
    • Buttercups
    • Cocklebur
    • Creeping Charlie
    • Lobelia
    • Sandbur
    • Spurges
    • Inkberry
    • Pokeweed
    • Pine Trees

    Department of Animal Science – Plants Poisonous to Livestock

    Toxic Plants and the Common Caprine

    Unlike the public’s vision of a goat, the cast iron-stomached beast that can eat everything from a tin can to plastic wrapping, there are many things that can kill a goat. Some poison plants are ingested by accident, while browsing, but a major reason for the toxic poisoning of goats comes as a result of starvation.

    As with all nutritional toxicology, it is the size of the dose, and the poison present in the plant that will determine whether the animal lives or dies. This web page is devoted to the caprine species, and to many of the plants out there that can kill them. It gives a fairly comprehensive list of plants commonly found in areas with goats, but it is not complete.

    This list comes from an old Dairy Goat Management book that I had kicking around at home, and may be incomplete. For a more comprehensive, and more scientific list, consult Mary Smith, and David Sherman’s Goat Medicine.

    Click on the following link for further information on the plants listed below

    Alkaloid Containing Plants:

    • Aconite
    • Allspice
    • Black Snake Root
    • Bloodroot
    • Blue Cohosh
    • Boxwood
    • Celandine
    • Common Poppy
    • Crotalaria
    • Crow Poison
    • Death Camas
    • Dicentra
    • False Hellebore
    • False Jessamine
    • Fume Wort
    • Hellebore
    • Hemp
    • Horse Nettle
    • Indian Hemp
    • Indian Poke
    • Jimson Weed
    • Larkspur
    • Lobelia
    • Lupines
    • Marjiuana
    • Monkshood
    • Moonseed
    • Nightshade
    • Pink Death Camas
    • Posion Darnel
    • Poison Hemlock
    • Poison Rye Grass
    • Rattleweed
    • Rock Poppy
    • Senecio
    • Spider Lily
    • Spotted Cowbane
    • Spotted Water Hemlock
    • Stagger Grass
    • Staggerweed
    • Sweet Shrub
    • Thorn Apple
    • Varebells
    • Wild Parsnip
    • Wolfs-Bane
    • Yellow Jessamine

    Cyanogenics (plus a few that aren’t…):

    Cyanogens are glycosides that contain both a sugar, and a cyanide-containing aglycone. They can be hydrolyzed by enzymatic action releasing HCN(Hydrogen cyanide), which is a very potent toxin. This in turn inhibits the terminal respiratory enzyme, cytochrome oxidase.

    • Arrow Grass
    • Black Locust
    • Blue Cohosh
    • Broomcarn
    • Buckeye
    • Cherry
    • Choke Cherry
    • Corn Cockle
    • Dogbane
    • Elderberry
    • Hemp
    • Horse Nettle
    • Indian Hemp
    • Ivy
    • Johnson Grass
    • Kafir
    • Laurel
    • Leucothoe
    • Lily of the Valley
    • Maleberry
    • Marijuana
    • Milkweed
    • Milo
    • Nightshade
    • Oleander
    • Rhododendron
    • Sevenbark
    • Silver
    • Sneezewood
    • Sorghum
    • Stagger Brush
    • Sudan Grass
    • Velvet Grass
    • White Snakeroot
    • Wild Black Cherry
    • Wild Hydrangea


    Photosensitivity describes an abnormal sensitivity to light, and may result as an inability of cells to repair themselves when exposed to UV light. Complications may result in production of metabolites throughout the body.

    • Buckwheat
    • Goat Weed
    • Klamath Weed
    • Lantana
    • Rape
    • St. John’s Wort


    Saponins are naturally occurring glycosides whose active portions are soluble in water and produce foam (reducing the surface tension of water). The name comes from Saponaria, soapwort, the root of which has been used as a soap (Latin sapo, soap). The chemical composition of some saponins is very similar to that of hormones, their aglycones being choline steroids. Some saponins contain a triterpenoid aglycone. Their structure is very similar to that of cardiac glycosides. Bitter taste (triterpenoid aglycones contain glucuronic acid in place of sugar and are detectable by sweet taste: liquorice). Saponins cause growth depression in poultry and swine; bloat in ruminants. Aglycones increasing the permeability of membranes can cause haemolysis by destroying the membranes of red blood-cells, thus releasing hemoglobin. This hemolytic activity of saponins varies considerably from plant to plant. Protoplasts are also affected. Cholesterin inactivates saponosides in humans, only our mucus membranes are badly affected. Used in sneezing powder and as an emetic -> irritate the membranes of respiratory and digestive tracts, this local irritant effect is helpful in pectoral syrups and tisanes to facilitate expectoration. Many plants containing saponosides are diuretic. In humans, the effect disappears within a week following the neutralizing action of cholesterin. Some saponins (e.g. those in oats and spinach) increase and accelerate the body’s ability to absorb some active compounds e.g. calcium and silicon assisting in digestion.

    • Bagpod
    • Coffee Weed
    • Purple Sesban
    • Rattlebox
    • Soapwort


    • Oaks

    All Other Toxic Plants:

    These plants all have different properties that make them toxic in their own way. They may not even kill the goats, but they cause mechanical injury or problems with resins. So for all others, here is the list:

    • Clover
    • Cocklebur
    • Downy Broome Grass
    • Sand Bur
    • Squirrel Tail Grass
    • Inkberry
    • Poke Weed
    • Pine Trees
    • Ponderosa Pine Needles
    • Baneberry
    • Buttercups
    • Crowfoot
    • Ground Ivy
    • Lobelia
    • Snakeberry
    • Spurge
    • White Cohosh

    This web page was created by an undergraduate student at Cornell University for the AS625 class.

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