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.
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.