Poisonous Plants for Goats: A Guide to Keeping Goats Safe

By Dairy Farming Hut


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When it comes to the snacking habits of goats, there is an underlying belief that goats have stomachs of steel, and they often get the reputation of being avid eaters of anything put in their path. In reality, there are numerous plants out there that are poisonous to goats. So if you plan on keeping goats, it would be good to know what trees and plants are poisonous to goats.

In the US, approximately 700 trees and plants are poisonous to goats. These plants include cyanogenetic and photodynamic plants, plants that contain alkaloids, resins, volatile or essential oils, tannins, saponins, and spiny coverings or tiny hairs that produce mechanical injury.

Some of these plants can cause minor symptoms, and some can cause instant death. Therefore it is a good idea to learn which plants most commonly threaten your goats and what signs you might expect to arise if your goat makes a snack from one of these plants. Also, ways that you can mitigate a chance encounter between your goats and any of these plants.

What Plants Are Toxic For Goats To Eat?

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Regarding what plants are poisonous to goats, it is essential to know that some plants will cause almost instant death while others will make your goat sick. The severity of your goat’s reaction will also depend on several factors, including how much they ate, their age and health, size and weight, and the amount of poison in that particular plant.

Even though over 700 trees and plants in the US are poisonous to goats, only a fraction of these plants should be of significant concern to you, as many of them will not grow in your pastures or areas to which your goats have access. However, many poisonous plants can be opportunists, so having a basic guide on which plants are toxic to goats is more than useful.

Cyanogenetic Plants

Under certain conditions, these plants can contain (prussic acid) hydrocyanic acid, a cyanide compound that can be lethal to goats. This poison affects the blood by interfering with its oxygen-carrying ability resulting in the goat dying from asphyxiation. In most cases, if a goat consumes plant matter containing this poison, you can expect death to be rapid with only a few outward symptoms.

The most common threats that fall into this category include the following:




Prunus Plant Family Members (wild cherries, plums, peaches, and other stone fruits)

Frost, cutting, and storm damage can cause wilting of the green leaves and causes a glucoside within the plant to change into a sugar and hydrocyanic acid. A sudden goat death after an early sharp frost or sudden windstorm can indicate poisoning from this plant family.

Typically when the plant dries out, it loses its poisonous nature. Remove these plants as soon as you notice them, or remove your goats from the area for at least 5-6 days, allowing the plant to dry out completely.

Black Nightshade

The green unripe berries and foliage of this plant are toxic.

It is an annual plant, and you will find it widely distributed. The best option is to remove it from any area your goats visit.

Sorghums and Sudan Grass

Typically deadly if they become frozen or damaged. Sprouts that grow immediately after a frost are extremely dangerous. Overall, if the plants have any green parts, you can assume they are poisonous.

If your goats’ pasture contains either of these plants, remove the goats from the field for at least 5-6 days after a frost has occurred to allow the grass to dry out thoroughly. You should also ensure that your goats do not feast on any Sudan Grass until it is at least 18 inches tall, thus ensuring the grass is low in prussic acid.

Mountain Laurel

The foliage of this plant can cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, and salivation.

Your best bet would be to keep your goats out of any area where this plant grows in abundance.

Horse Nettle

The orange-yellow berries of this plant are more toxic than the foliage of this plant.

It is a common commodity in fields and grassland areas, and you should pull it out to prevent your goats from eating it.

Common Milkweed

The bitter, milky white sap should be off-putting, but a hungry goat will still eat the tender topmost leaves if no better options exist. Symptoms of milkweed poisoning include unsteady gait, dilated pupils, weakness, difficulty breathing, and bloating.

You should remove these plants by cutting, spading, plowing, or pulling them when you see them.


Usually, goats will venture to eat rhododendrons in winter and early spring. Goats typically avoid these plants unless there is nothing else to snack on. Symptoms include vomiting, listlessness, central nervous system signs, salivation, and labored breathing.

As these are often popular garden plants, the best solution would be to keep your rhododendrons in an area your goats cannot access.

Other Cyanogenetic Plants Include:

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

Alkaloid Containing Plants

Luckily, these plants are not so tasty, and therefore your goats will mostly find them unpalatable, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t sometimes chomp them up accidentally when the young shoots are coming up in spring. In most cases, these plants’ leaves, flowers, stems, and roots are toxic to goats.

Typically, symptoms from alkaloid poisoning include pain, digestive disturbances, and nervous system issues. Often, goats will die in convulsions.

The most common threats that fall into this category include the following:




Water Hemlock

You will commonly find this perennial in fertile wet soil. The roots contain the highest amount of dangerous alkaloids and are, therefore, the most poisonous part of the plant. In spring, your goats can pull the new plants from the wet soil, roots and all, and this combination can be deadly in large quantities.

Remove any water hemlock you find during summer to prevent new growth and spread.

Poison Hemlock

The seeds and foliage of this plant contain lethal doses of alkaloid poison. Most poisonings will occur in early spring when your goats hunt for new growth.

The optimal way to mitigate issues surrounding poison hemlock poisoning in your goats would be to ensure that the plant does not go to seed and by using a herbicide on the plant when it is still young.

Other alkaloid-containing plants include:

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

    These plants affect photo-sensitive goats, such as white or white-spotted goats. In some cases, you might see a whole section of the white-skinned area swelling up and sloughing off. Some white goats can even die from this affliction.

    For a goat to be affected by these plants, they need to have unpigmented areas of skin, eat a large amount of the plant, and be in the bright sun for an extended period.

    Photodynamic plants include:

  • Buckwheat
  • Klamath Weed
  • Rapeseed
  • Goat Weed
  • Lantana
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Alsike Clover
  • Ornamental Hypericums
  • Plants That Cause Mechanical Injury

    These plants are not necessarily poisonous to goats, but rather due to the fine hairs or spiny coverings that these plants have, they can cause injuries to the goat’s gut or form hairballs in the intestines or stomach.

    Types of plants that can cause mechanical injury include:

  • Downy Brome Grass
  • Cocklebur
  • Squirrel-Tail Grass
  • Mesquite
  • Poverty Grass
  • Sand Bur
  • Clover
  • Other Problematic Plants for Goats

    These plants might not cause the death of your goat through their toxic nature, but they can cause unwanted health issues.





    If a pregnant goat eats resin-containing plants in large quantities, it may cause her to abort her kid.

    Ponderosa Pine Needles


    It can cause bloat in goats

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

    Essential or Volatile Oils

    Some plants containing volatile or essential oils, such as buttercups, can cause a goat’s milk to taste bitter and turn reddish.

    • Spurge
    • Baneberry
    • Lobelia
    • Crowfoot
    • Snakeberry
    • White Cohosh
    • Buttercups


    If consumed in high quantities, it can cause kidney and liver damage in goats.

    Principle Oaks

    Ways To Mitigate Contact Between Goats And Poisonous Plants

    As much as anyone would like to feel confident in their ability to keep these poisonous plants away from their goats, they might sometimes miss a few. For this reason, there are a few other techniques you can employ to try to avoid a situation whereby your goats land up snacking on something that can cause them harm.

    • Keep your goats out of wetlands or woodlands
    • Check your hay bales for unwanted toxic plants
    • Refrain from feeding them clippings from trees or brush
    • Prevent them from feeding on garden or landscaped plants
    • Ensure that they do not go hungry, which will force them to eat undesirable plants

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