Poisonous Plants to Goats



When it comes to plants that are poisonous to goats, if you do even just a quick Google search on common poisonous plants (to goats) that might grow in your pasture or backyard, you’re going to find a list similar to this:


  • Bracken fern

  • Buttercup

  • Common milkweed (tansy weed)

  • Foxglove

  • Lantana

  • Locoweed

  • Poke weed

  • Spurge

  • St. John’s Wort

  • Water hemlock and poison hemlock


  • 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

Most of the property I’ve lived on didn’t naturally have these. I have, however, dealt with rhododendron poisoning a few times, which is one of the worst.

Goats are smart and really stupid at the same time. I’ve seen my goats eat right next to rhododendrons and completely avoid them. And another time they broke into the backyard and ate a bunch of it, which resulted in very sick goats and a veterinary visit.

I think the logic behind it is that goats will avoid poisonous plants as long as they have lots of other brush to eat. If they’re hungry, or don’t have a variety of things to eat, I think they’ll get bored and curious and suck down a bunch of poison.

But, needless to say, if you have any of the above plants in an area where goats can reach, you’re going to want to remove or transplant those plants. And if your neighbor likes to bring treats to the goats, you’ll want to give them a quick education on things they shouldn’t bring.

If you think your goats have consumed something poisonous, it’ll be pretty obvious. They’re going to stand away from the herd, back hunched as their stomachs really hurt, and they’re probably puking. I had a mild case of rhododendron poisoning in one of my does that ended up okay, we just had to wait it out. But I had another, awful case that resulted in a vet visit. I haven’t wrote that post yet, but will post it here when I do.

I’ve been reading up and have been hearing a lot of good things about Milk of Magnesium and Activated Charcoal. Basically, you can mix this with olive or vegetable oil and turn it into a liquid to give to them. It helps detoxify and calm their stomachs. The bonus is that it won’t hurt them at all if poisoning isn’t the case, so if you want to give them about a quart every couple hours if you see these symptoms, you’re going to go a long way to helping them out.

My vet also recommends this a rhododendron drench to give your goats if they have a severe case, taken from here:

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This will help calm the goat’s stomach, or make them puke. Both are usually good. You need to get that plant OUT of their system!

However. From my trusted vet, the rule is, if your goat has been puking for more than 24 hours, she needs medical attention. In these severe cases you’ll need to go to a vet and get their stomach pumped. I would not advise to do this at home, because they can asphyxiate if you do it wrong, and watching your goat suffocate is a horrifying experience.

I would still consult a vet if you suspect a severe case of poisoning. I may be a bit gun shy about it because of my experience with it, but plant poisoning is nothing to mess around with in goats!

The best thing you can do, of course, is prevention. If you have poisonous plants on your property somewhere and you’re indifferent to their existence, take them out!

Any questions? Advice?


Fun Facts about Herd Dynamics

Goats are social creatures, just like people, and they have somewhat complex hierarchy structures that accompany this. The hierarchy part is pretty straight forward, with each goat having a place in the herd that’s above someone else and below another (unless you’re herd boss or at the bottom of the herd, of course).

Firstly, there is the herd boss, who runs the operations in the herd.

How exactly this plays out depends on her personality. A herd boss has the basic role of watching out for the herd and leading them to where she’d like the herd to be.Some boss’ will be more jealous about the food, only allowing her favorites and her daughters the tasty bits. Some boss’ will be more generous, leading the whole herd to the best spots and showing everyone how to go about it.

The temperament of the herd boss really affects how the rest of the herd behaves, since they’re all supposed to follow her lead. For example, Cocoa was pretty anxious and nervous about everything. It took a bit of encouragement for the herd to want to venture outside.

It seems like Sari is the herd boss at this particular time. She seems to be calling the shots. She’s a lot more stubborn and in your face about going places, and in this sense, the herd moves in and out of the barn all the time now. She’s also much more of the jealous type, and likes to hoard the food for her favorites. Blackberry complains about it all the time.

Then there’s the herd uh, well, my name isn’t exactly appropriate for polite company, so let’s call it the herd second

Her job, besides helping the herd boss out with leading and watching duties, is to keep everybody in line and to keep any challengers from pestering the herd boss too much. She’s the badass of the group.

Phe seems to have that place in the herd at the moment. And she’s definitely a butthead about it.

Daughters fit into the hierarchy directly below the dam, as opposed to starting off at the bottom. I’m not exactly sure how that works out for the herd boss — with Sari’s babies, I wonder if Phe will need prove to Beltane and Inanna that she’s above them (and herd second).

And just because daughters are automatically placed in the hierarchy doesn’t mean that this doesn’t change. If goats are butting heads, they’re often working out who’s on top. I’m pretty sure that Duchess is going to give Maggie a run for her money, as soon as she’s old enough to defend (or lose) her place in the herd.

For fun I’ve created a picture hierarchy of what my herd looks like at the moment. You can see I’m not sure how Beltane and Inanna are fitting in there yet! I’m selling Aztec hopefully soon, so he won’t be there long term, and is still technically in with the girls at the moment. He’s very interested in trying to fight the bucks through the fence; though, Duchess took him on the other day and they had a giant battle throughout the barn. That might have been her teaching him a lesson on how rude it is to try to hump everyone, however (even if he’s not old enough to be viable yet).

Bucks, actually, have a hierarchy that is a little removed from the females. I don’t have my bucks in with my girls (for obvious reasons), but in a ‘wild’ situation where they might be, bucks have the primary job of protecting the herd and listening to the herd boss. They don’t necessarily fit into the same structure at the females, but have their own straightforward hierarchy.

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What do you think? Anything to add in your observations of herd interactions?

Picky Eaters


goat-eating-can_-vl0001b093.jpgI think it’s safe to say that by now, most people know goats don’t actually eat tin cans. The myth came from the glue they used to paste the paper to the can — apparently it was tasty to our caprine friends.

Goats don’t eat everything. In fact, goats are very picky eaters. They’re just weird about what they want to eat. Rose bushes? Yum! Fruit trees? Heck yeah! Anything on the other side of the fence that looks interesting? Mine mine mine!

The expensive super-healthy grain? Well…

Goats get bored with food, and it becomes pretty obvious they are — they’ll pick through it uninterestedly and sort of stare at you like somehow it’s your fault (Sari likes to throw her dish on the floor). They like what they like and they’ll make it real obvious when they don’t. This especially happens with grain for me; they’ll turn up their nose at the healthy grain and want the crap stuff for whatever reason. Goats are like 150 lb. two-year-olds with less words.

Cocoa used to struggle constantly with keeping weight on — and was the pickiest eater I’ve ever come across. I spent many an evening try to coax a few bites of this and that from her. Often it was a long process. I reminded her every time we went through it that this was how much I loved her. She was unimpressed.

I joke about Cocoa not eating, but truthfully, she had a few health problems that were contributing to her personality tick. If a goat is really not eating, it means s/he feels sick. It could simply be a stomach ache because s/he ate something funny, but you should always watch to make sure they start eating fairly quickly.

Another example, two-weeks-from-kidding Sari suddenly started standing in the corner and not eating — a rapid personality switch for her. I panicked for a minute, as not-eating/misery/staying away from the other goats that close to kidding can signal pregnancy ketosis. Thankfully, it was just because she ate something funny and had a stomach ache (The watery diarrhea I saw a minute later was definitely a clue).

She was fine after about 36 hours of picking listlessly through food. I did give her some calcium supplements (which taste like strawberry, so she was all on board for that), a little grain, and flavored some water to convince her to drink — just because she’s so close to kidding, and I didn’t want to risk anything by her not eating for a day or so.

With all of this in mind, I thought I would share the tricks I’ve used over the past year to convince picky/sickly goats to eat in case you’re struggling with a similar issue. Usually, a trick that convinced Cocoa to eat something only lasted about a week or two before she decided to turn her nose up at that too.

But what are you going to do? She’s my baby.

So here are some tips:

Vary things up. Goat gets bored with food pretty easily. It’s bad idea to change up their diets dramatically, but adding in interesting new things here and there can keep them interested in food — and the same old stuff they’ve been eating. Bring home some blackberries. Feed apple cores.

Molasses. Drizzling sweet-smelling stuff on their grain (this is assuming you’re already feeding grain) is a pretty big incentive to eat. If you already feed grain with molasses on it, it might not work as well (as it smells similar), but it’s worth a shot.

Oatmeal and honey. This was my last working attempt to keep Cocoa eating. I make a cup of it before I head up for chores and dump a ton of honey on it. She slurps that up so fast she usually got it all over herself — and wanted to eat grain afterwards! I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the honey, but it seemed to do good things for her stomach. With that in mind…

Beer and yogurt. Yep, you read that right. Getting microbrewed beer and yogurt that still contain all the good bacteria (like Nancy’s) is really good for a goat’s stomach. This is a natural way to jump-start a goat’s stomach if s/he’s standing in the corner looking like her stomach hurts.

Warm (and/or flavored) water. Sometimes goats turn their nose up at water. This can be due to a couple things, but the most common is a change in the smell of water. If you show at all and take them to fairs, the water probably will smell different and many goats with balk. Solution? Gatorade! Put a little in their water.

Additionally, goats LOVE warm water. Straight up warm water, or warm water with a little molasses (or hey, gatorade) is a great treat for them, and convinces them to drink. This is an excellent thing to do for a just-kidded goat too; the water helps hydrate them, makes their bellies warm, and the molasses gives them a little energy after all that work.


With all of this in mind, never let a goat go more than a few days without eating. Sometimes it’s a simple yummy ache or a cold, but letting it go on for too long is dangerous (particularly if they’re pregnant). Their stomachs will shut down after too long, and their bodies will start pulling nutrients from their bones and muscles — resulting in ketosis. That will kill a goat faster than you believe.

I’ll add more thoughts and ideas as I find and experiment with more! Do you have any methods you use? Ideas to add?