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Non-edible landscapes and plants poisonous to goats

Non-edible landscapes and plants poisonous to goats

I never feel more nostalgic than in autumn, when the falling leaves and cool breezes remind me of the seasonal changes to come. The slowly drifting leaves provide a beautiful contrast to the evergreen pines that line our new pasture. As I stand looking over my small herd, my thoughts wander back to a terrifying evening in early fall, when three of my commercial Boer goats nearly didn’t survive the night. Those freedom-loving goats, with their Houdini-like ability to get through any fence, had caused unending frustration to us. Every night at feeding time, at least two goats had become ‘unfenced’. Sometimes a chase ensued to get them back in the pasture, but more often the goats raced us back in to their lean-to, hoping for a grain treat. Not that the pasture wasn’t lush, but these animals just preferred to munch on some white pine tree needles and poplar saplings, which were just out of reach from within the fence.


One evening as I walked towards the lean-to, one of the goats let loose a bloodcurdling scream that raised every hair on the back of my neck. Dreading what I might find, I rounded the corner to see a goat in a stretched stance, wringing his body in pain. His distended stomach literally undulated in waves, and he regularly power puked green liquid. Two others foamed green at the mouth and appeared to moon gaze.


Since my local vet doesn’t handle goats, a local longtime goat breeder helped me find information to nurse the animals through the night. A milk of magnesia concoction forced down their throats coated their stomachs and encouraged diarrhea, since the toxins needed to be pushed through ASAP to prevent further poisoning and damage. During downtime, I explored the property with a flashlight and found a stripped azalea bush near the property owner’s house. In the wee hours of the morning, as I stood coated in green slime and liquid poo, my patients had quieted and seemed stable enough to leave. Shortly afterward, we moved the goats to new pastures.


After my night of terror, it became my personal mission to identify every plant around the field. Knowing becomes especially important this time of year, when a surprising bounty of poison may literally blow right into your goat’s path. In winter, an evergreen may be the only bit of greenery the goat sees, and can be an insurmountable temptation. To the goat’s credit, most adults will not eat enough of them to cause poisoning, particularly if they have access to good hay and feed. However, young curious goats are apt to get into anything!


Here’s a short list of common poisonous leaves and evergreen plants, which can be native to the East Coast or landscaped into it. Most of this information was pulled from the USDA or extension offices. If you have any questions on any plant/tree, your local county extension office can give you specifics on the dangerous plants in your locality.


Falling Leaves that may find their way near your goat:
Oak leaves – Oak leaves and acorns, either dry or on tree, contain tannin, which is toxic to goats in large amounts.
Wild Cherry – Wilted wild cherry leaves are deadly to goats due to high cyanide content.
Black Walnut – The effects of Black Walnut leaves/nuts have not been studied in goats, but are considered toxic to livestock.
Red Maple – Wilted leaves are deadly to horses, causing red blood cell damage. Watch for poisoning signs in goats if a tree is nearby.
Evergreens to beware for goats:    
Rhododendron – All plants of this family, including azalea and mountain laurel, are used for landscaping. A small amount can kill a goat within a few hours.
Azalea – See above. There is an evergreen and deciduous type. Both are equally poisonous.
Mountain Laurel/Sheep Laurel – See above. It is native to many areas of U.S.
Yew – Evergreen landscape bush with needles. Extremely poisonous in tiny amounts. Death is sudden.
Juniper – Another evergreen type landscape plant. Needle-like leaves and berries are poisonous to goats.
Ponderosa Pine – Not common in the Eastern US, except as landscaping plant. Ingestion will cause abortion in does.
Check your goat yard, or anywhere your goat may wander, for the above common plants. And if you suspect plant poisoning, call your veterinarian immediately! By knowing what plants are nearby, you will be better able to inform your veterinarian, which will give your goats a better chance of survival.


Ponderosa Pine

Wild Cherry


Oak leaves







Mountain Laurel


Black Walnut








Red Maple

















Meghan Leonard
Meghan Leonard is a veterinary medical technology student, leading to vet school. She lives and learns at her barnyard in southcentral PA, where books and practical goat experience combine.
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, and offer no advice beyond my personal experience.

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  1. by paulaross
    Comment made on: November 6 2012

    My goats eat red maple, black walnut (have about 30 in our fields) I have seen them stand on their hind legs to get to them and when we had the freeze all the leaves fell from the black walnut and they had a good time eating those. Of course oak too since we have at least a dozen of them in their fields and have seen them eating leaves that have fallen or they could reach all summer long.
    Wild Cherry is only dangerous when damaged i.e. broken or cut off branch. That is when they produce cyanide. Our alpacas and llamas have lived with wild cherry for years never had in issue. Of course all broken branches would be removed from pasture. We let them pick leaves from the trees.
    The red maple again is only dangerous if eaten in large quantities and from damaged branches the leaves in the fall will not harm them. Our alpacas and llamas eat the fall foliage from the ground and as far as the goats go I do not know if they have yet. Llamas and alpacas also eat the walnut.

    We also had a horse eat the fall leaves from the red maple.

    So don’t go into a panic about the trees just be aware and remove fallen or broken branches as this is when most produce their toxins.

  2. by Bigfoot48
    Comment made on: November 8 2012

    The odd thing is, my Nubians also have their escape moments, but come straight to the house to scream for me. They don’t like to be out without their human supervising, and if I am late for their daily hike they let me know at the door. In the meantime, they eat the yew, the rhododendron, and the fallen red maple leaves. Been doing it for years, they only get a few minutes worth but not a one has ever gotten sick. If my horses got even one bite of yew they’d be dead in hours. Any insight into this? My goats, in one of our pastures, also eat wilted cherry leaves that blow in, also with no ill effect. I raise Nubians, any idea why they have been OK? Could it be the “dilution cures pollution” effect?

  3. by Calgriggs
    Comment made on: November 10 2012

    You might want to add mesquete (sp) to this list. Goats will eat the pods and will not pass the seeds through their system, thus compaction. I have aneighbor who is having this problem with several goats on his farm.

  4. by
    Comment made on: December 16 2012

    I do not know what the difference between Red Maple and Sugar Maple. Sugar maple leaves, green or wilted, is suppose to be good for goats according to Cornell University?

  5. by
    Comment made on: December 16 2012

    Here is a link to the goats in the woods study. It mentions what the goats consumed while in the woods.

  6. by MeghanDauLeonard
    Comment made on: January 1 2013

    Great comments, folks! As most of us know, goats are just starting to get the attention they deserve from the academic and veterinary community with studies and projects. The plants that I have listed above are known to be poisonous to studied livestock (horses, cattle, sheep, etc.). Unfortunately, some of the plants are not specific to goats, but the deadly effects on the other species, like horses, are enough to raise my suspicion of the plant – like Black Walnut or Red Maple.

    I love the link you posted on the “Goats in the Woods” study. Its wonderful that our caprine friends are finally getting some attention! I’m not sure whether they are recommending maples (red or sugar) as fodder, or just noting that they did eat it without observed ill effects?

    However, their study did note the goats had a tendency to not damage or eat the sugar maple, which suggests goats may naturally avoid it – possibly a natural aversion due to its toxicity? Not sure. But Cornell does state on their website that Red Maple, Sugar Maple, and Silver Maple all contain the gallic acid that causes anemia and death in horses.

    Another note is that a lot of landscaping companies claim a tree is a “red maple” but not an actual “acer rubrum”.

    The type of goat, meat or dairy (Nubian), won’t have any impact on the extent of poisoning. But Cornell University has admitted that white tail deer, who browse and ruminate like goats, are less suseptible to yew poisoning than domestic livestock. However, only 5.5 grams of yew per pound of body weight of a goat is enough to kill it, based on post-mortem veterinary examinations, so please be careful!!

    Here’s a great link to reference:

    This link will take you to Cornell University’s website, where you can look up other plants too!

    Here’s the link for some info from Lousiana State University on azaleas/rhododendrons and goats:

    Again, please check with your local county extension office if you have any questions!

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