Goat Care Danger Zones— It’s more than you think!

August 10, 2022
poisonous plants for goats

Knowing what to look out for and what to keep out of your goat’s mouth, you can guarantee your goat’s health and safety.

“Wait, what do you mean there are types of plants goats should not eat?” You might be thinking this right now, and it’s totally understandable. It’s common knowledge that goats eat everything, and that’s exactly the problem: goats will eat just about anything, including poisonous plants.

That’s why it’s important to be able to identify plants that may be harmful to your hoofed buddy. By knowing what to look out for and what to keep out of your goat’s mouth, you can guarantee your goat’s health and safety.

So, without further ado, let’s get into it.

Cyanogenic Plants

Here’s a list of common types of Cyanogenic Plants to avoid; then we’ll cover why they are such a problem for Goats.

  • Some fruit trees such as Cherry trees, Plum, Peach, Apricot, Chokecherry and Nectarine (note, these all contain pits!)
  • Sudan and Sorghum grass
  • Common milkweed
  • Horse nettle
  • Black nightshade
  • Rhododendrons

A cyanogenic plants, like milkweed, release hydrocyanic acid which is a deadly poison that can interfere with the oxygen transportation in blood cells.

A cyanogenic plant is one that has the ability to release hydrogen cyanide cells. This is a defense mechanism of the plant to protect it from attack by fungi and other pests. Unfortunately, hydrogen cyanide cells can morph into hydrocyanic acid. And, this is a deadly poison that can interfere with the oxygen–carrying ability of the blood. No oxygen—no Goat!

What makes these plants troublesome is that their leaves will start forming hydrocyanic acid after minor wilting. Typically, this type of minor wilting is caused by frost, storm damage, or by cutting. Even more worrisome is the fact that these plants don’t need to grow directly in your goats’ paddock to cause a problem. Small branches and clumps of leaves can get blown into your paddock by winds or a strong storm.  Your livestock/goats eat this plant…bingo…huge health problem or…worse!!

Now, you may look at this list and think “Hey, I think my goats have eaten some of this stuff.” Not to worry. Your goats may very well have eaten a few of these plants in the past with no problem. If so, that’s probably because these plants hadn’t frosted over yet. In dry weather, some cyanogenic plants like sudan grass and sorghum can be pasteurized without any ill effects. However, research each of these plants individually before giving them to your goats or allowing access.

Alkaloid-Containing Plants

Below is a list of common types of Alkaloid-Containing Plants to avoid; then we’ll explain why they are a serious, deadly issue for Goats.

  • Mayapple
  • Bloodroot
  • Pokeweed
  • Nightshade
  • Hellebore
  • Hemlock**

The deadliest alkaloid-containing plant, is the HEMLOCK  This one is really bad, bad news for our hoofed friends.

Fortunately, most plants which contain alkaloids aren’t palatable to animals. However, that doesn’t mean animals will never eat them. The unfortunate thing about these plants is that every part of them is noxious to a goat.  This includes the roots, stems, leaves, and even the flowers of these plants being poisonous to goats.  In particular though, the roots are the most lethal.

Then, there is the deadliest alkaloid-containing plant, HEMLOCK**  This one is really bad, bad news for our hoofed friends.

Why is Hemlock** Bad for Goats?

Both poison hemlock and water hemlock are extremely lethal goats due to the concentration of neurotoxic conium alkaloids. Ingesting as little as three ounces of poison hemlock is enough to cause respiratory paralysis, incoordination, tremors, coma, and even death. Unfortunately, with water hemlock, it takes a dose of a mere.0.25g per kg of bodyweight (a much smaller volume)  to cause these same symptoms in your goat.

Saponin-Containing Plants

On their own, saponins are usually not dangerous to mammals like goats. Saponins are naturally occurring compounds that are in all types of plants and in all parts of plants. Saponins are found in soybeans, sugar beets, peanuts, broccoli, apples, and more. As such, saponins are only typically dangerous when fed in large quantities. So, bear this in mind for your hoofed buddy. In large doses, saponins can produce diarrhea and vomiting as well as disrupt red blood cells through a process known as hemolysis.

goats eat plants peanuts

Saponins are found edible plants, like peanuts. Saponins are only typically dangerous when fed in large quantities.

Some plants that have high concentrations of saponins include:

  • Bad pod
  • Coffee weed
  • Purple sedan
  • Rattlebox
  • Soapwort

Photodynamic Plants

Plants that are photodynamic cause reactions in photosensitive animals. Animals generally  meet three separate conditions for a reaction to occur after eating a photodynamic plant. These are as follows:

  1. Animal must have unpigmented areas of skin
  2. Must eat a sufficient quantity of the plants
  3. Must be exposed to bright sun at the time of ingestion

When a photosensitive goat has a reaction to a photodynamic plant, he usually becomes sore on the unpigmented areas of his body. In more severe reactions, whole areas of unpigmented skin may shed and slough off. Over time, this reaction can become fatal for white goals.

Common Types of Photodynamic Plants to Avoid Giving Goats

  • Rape
  • Alsike clover
  • Buckwheat
  • Lantana
  • John’s wort
  • Ornamental hypericums

Plants that Produce Mechanical Injuries

goat vet

Harmful plants can cause physical injuries when ingested or even intestinal or esophageal blockages.

There are a number of plants that cause physical injuries when ingested. This is usually due to the presence of their stems having spiny coverings, long beards, fine hairs, spikes, or thorns. When eaten, these may produce physical injury or cause intestinal or esophageal blockages or tears.

Plants that can cause mechanical injuries include:

  • Sand bur
  • Downy brome grass
  • Squirrel-tail grass
  • Poverty grass
  • Mesquite
  • Cocklebur
  • Clover

Other types of plants to avoid giving goats

While the majority of plants that are dangerous for goats have already been described, there are still a few commonplace plants worth of mention.

Bracken Fern

poison ivy

Poison ivy is one of the most common poisonous plants and goats tend to relish eating it.

Bracken fern is a plant that’s very common in burned out or wooded areas with undeveloped pastures. It has broad, triangular leaves or fronds and its stem reaches roughly two to four-feet in height. Typically, animals only eat bracken fern when there is little else to eat. Symptoms of bracken fern poisoning typically don’t appear until several weeks of consistent eating. Unfortunately, as with so many others on this list, all parts of bracken fern are poisonous to goats. Bracken fern poisoning in goats results in internal bleeding, damage to bone marrow, and increased risk of urinary and GI cancer.


Buttcerups are tall, flowering herbs that stand up to three-feet high and have deep yellow petals. Buttercups usually inhabit moist areas by ditches and streams. All known species of buttercups are poisonous due to the presence of anemone; an acrid, very poisonous substance. Severe buttercup poisoning can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, nervousness, twitching of the ears, and even convulsions.

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy is one of the most common poisonous plants in the United States. It’s so ubiquitous that there’s even been a saying developed for it: “leaves of three, let it be”. This is in reference to poison ivy’s shiny, green leaves that grow in groups of three. Unlike others on this list, goats tend to relish eating poison ivy; it’s just that handling it is tricky for humans. For humans, even brushing by poison ivy is enough to cause inflammation of the skin.

Why Goats Eat Plants They Should Not Eat

toxic plants for goats

The solution to keeping your goat from eating harmful plants is to simply deny them access.

It should be noted that a goat eats any plant it can be harmful when consumed in large enough quantities. Luckily, most animals won’t willingly eat poisonous plants.

However, there are reasons that your goat may eat plants that are poisonous. These reasons include undernourishment, unbalanced feeding schedules, overgrazing and drought, or having access to newly plowed areas where roots are exposed.

Thankfully, there’s one surefire way to prevent your goats from eating harmful plants: Simply, deny them access. Before you add any goats to a pasture, make sure to take stock of what’s growing there and remove any plants that can cause problems. Sure, you might have to cut down some trees, put up some fences, and do some weeding. But isn’t that worth it to make sure your goat can feed without worry?

You know another way to ensure your goat’s health and wellness? Stay up to date with our blog! Or check out all of our blogs here.

By keeping current with our blog, you’ll learn lots about how to keep all of your animals – not just your goats – feeling happy and healthy. And remember to keep a goat’s best friend on hand– Banixx!


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