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  • Writer's pictureDiana Reed

Pasture Plants that can Harm Goats

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

We all know that goats don’t eat just anything. However, there are several plants that do pose health risks to goats. Some of these harmful plants are more common than others, and a few can be found in the pasture.

Pasture management for goats is an ongoing process.

Goats Foraging Branches Leaves browsing hillside

This list of toxins and toxic plants is by no means exhaustive. Also, the goal of this article is to provide an overview understanding of the most common toxins and their effects.

Goats are Herbivores that Browse

Goats are actually classified as Browsers rather than Grazers.

Where animals like horses and cows Graze, which means they eat mostly grass and very low-to-the-ground vegetation, Browsers tend to eat vegetation that grows a little higher from the ground. Bark from trees, leaves, and shrubs are all examples of things that goats tend to prefer.

Additionally, animals who Graze have smaller mouths and stiffer lips for ripping up grass, while Browsers have wider mouths and longer tongues for reaching up and grabbing plants that are higher-up.

Goats Foraging Branches Leaves browsing hillside

It makes them master brush clearers who are capable of finding lots of nutrient-dense and healthful forages. On the flip side, this also leaves them open to finding a lot of nasty stuff that can harm them.

But the attentive goat owner does not need to fear. A bit of awareness and familiarity with your region allows you to eliminate negative plants in your pastures while promoting the positive. Pasture management for goats is an ongoing process; what you get will vary according to grazing intensity, the current season, or other climate factors.

Goats have Great Instincts Towards Harmful Plants

It’s important to note that goats DO have active immune and digestive systems that can be relatively resilient to many toxins.. Many forages can be toxic to goats but it all depends on the dosage.

However, concentrated toxins can be harmful and/or deadly. Goats usually avoid eating harmful plants unless there is little else available to them, or at times - just out of curiosity when plants are first encountered.

Most toxic plants are unpalatable and are very unlikely to be eaten. Many toxins that are ingested are often diluted if other quality feed is available limiting the severity of their effects. However, toxins like Cyanides and some Alkaloids or Glycosides such as Japanese Yew and Oleander are severe and often fatal.

Anything in Excess can be Harmful

Be aware that most any field or pasture that is Over-Grazed will be more prone to invasive species. Special care should be taken in the springtime because the toxic invasive plants often sprout first before native grazing plants will abound.

This is where it’s critically important to actively work on pasture management for goats and have familiarity with your particular region and the types of toxic plants known to grow there. Unfortunately, goats can be exceptionally prone to this as they can eat bitter and abrasive forages that other animals would avoid.

Even tannins, ( while certainly beneficial ), can be poisonous when consumed in high concentrations and/or grazed extensively. Oak leaves, for example, are notoriously very high in tannins which is why grazing animals near them is not recommended.

As a rule of thumb, woodland and wet or swampy areas tend to have a higher likelihood of harboring poisonous plants.

Types of Toxic Plants for Goats

The listings available to us of the plants with a degree of toxicity to goats is Extensive — and some plant specifications require further research, as no one knows when or if the list will ever be complete.

Fellow goat breeders in your region and university extension offices can be your most Invaluable tool in narrowing down what you should look for.

You may even be able to find someone with native plant knowledge who would walk your pasture with you and advise what hay not to buy.

Goat Foraging Branches Leaves browsing hillside

Cyanogenic Glycoside ( Cyanide ) – This toxin makes hemoglobin (blood) less able to deliver oxygen to tissues. Signs and symptoms often appear rapidly and include difficulty breathing, excitement, tremors, gasping, dilated pupils, bright pink mucous membranes, bloat, staggering, involuntary urination and defecation, convulsions, coma and death due to asphyxiation. Treatment for Cyanide is sodium nitrite or sodium thiosulfate however most animals die before treatment is available.

This includes stone fruits like peaches, plums, and wild cherries, which are especially toxic when leaves are wilted, and death can be sudden.

Cyanogenetic plants:

  • Wild Cherry

  • Black Cherry

  • Chokecherry

  • Apricot

  • Peach

  • Plum

  • Cherry Laurel

  • Plants with Pitted Fruits

  • Arrowgrass

  • Elderberry

  • Clovers – when fresh

Other Glycosides – There are many types of glycosides however most have similar signs and symptoms; some are less dangerous than others. Signs and symptoms include severe vomiting and diarrhea, swollen and inflamed oral tissues, cold extremities, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, weakness and death.

  • Oleander – extremely toxic

  • Hemp Dogbane

  • Locoweed

  • Milkvetch

  • Buttercup

  • Foxglove

  • Milkweeds


Alkaloid Toxins – There are many types of alkaloid toxins. Signs and symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, bloat, weakness, nervousness, trembling, difficulty breathing, incoordination, dilated pupils, decreased heart rate, convulsions, coma and death due to cardiac standstill.

Alkaloid plants are powerful organic substances known for their physiological impacts — nicotine and morphine are a couple of famous examples. Plants in the hemlock family, nightshade, and poppies are a few examples that livestock might encounter.

Alkaloid Plants:

  • Japanese Yew – extremely toxic

  • Death camus

  • Greasewood

  • Lupine

  • Locoweed

  • Milkvetch

  • Kochia

  • Crotolaria

  • Tansy Ragwort

  • Nightshades

  • Horse Nettle

  • Larkspur

  • Jimsonweed

  • Hounds Tongue

  • Boxwood

  • Sweet Shrub

  • Yellow Jessamine

  • Stagger Grass (Fly Poison)

  • Yarrow (Mild Gastrointestinal Irritant)

  • Potatoes

  • Tomatoes

  • Kale

  • Cabbage

  • Rape

  • Turnips

  • Mustard family

Most of these cultivar ( food ) species have been developed to have reduced toxins and are generally safe to feed livestock.


Nitrate Toxins – Several Nitrates exist, but when nitrates are digested they breakdown to nitrites which bond with hemoglobin which blocks oxygen delivery to tissues. Signs and symptoms include tremors, increased but weak pulse, decreased temperature, weakness, staggering, difficulty breathing, discolored mucous membranes, nervousness, frequent urination, diarrhea, collapse, coma and death; surviving animals may abort. Blood of affected animals is dark red or brown. Nitrate toxicity may be treated by veterinary treatment of methylene blue.

Nitrate Plants:

  • Pigweed

  • Lambs quarter

  • Kochia

  • Clovers – when fresh, dry is neutral

  • Milk Thistle


Oxalate Toxins – Ruminants tend to be more resistant to oxalates. Ruminants can however be affected when the majority of their grazing is made up of oxalate plants such as Greasewood. Oxalate toxins can cause swollen kidneys, bleeding in the rumen wall, and fluid in the abdominal cavity. Signs and symptoms can include weakness, depression, weak pulse, gastrointestinal paralysis, salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, coma and death.

Oxalate Plants:

  • Lambs quarter

  • Kochia

  • Halogeton

  • Dock

  • Sorrel


Lactone/Helenalin Toxins – The primary culprit of this toxin is Sneezeweed. This is a mild toxin that may become severe if no other forage is available over time. Signs and symptoms include wasting, depression, profuse vomiting, salivation, stiffness, weakness, secondary pneumonia and death. No treatment exists - but animals may recover from early detection and removal from the source.

Lactone/Helenalin Toxins

  • Sneezeweeds


Enzyme Toxins – Enzyme toxins are somewhat unique in the sense that they destroy necessary nutrients. These toxins essentially create an abnormal nutrient deficiency of vitamins and or minerals. Thanks to the ruminant digestive system, many enzyme toxins are greatly neutralized by the production of vitamins from nitrogen in the digestive process. Some however carry carcinogens as well that cause tumors typically in the bladder.

Enzyme Toxins:

  • Bracken Fern

  • Horsetail


Cicutoxin – Hemlocks. like poison hemlock and water hemlock, are most common for this toxin. The concentration of this toxin is in the roots and creates a strong carrot odor. Cicutoxins are potent and fast acting. Signs and symptoms include rapid respiration and pulse, dilated pupils, drooling, muscle tremors, convulsions and coma, culminating in a death from asphyxiation.

Cicutoxin Plants:

  • Water Hemlock

  • Poison Hemlock


Toxalbumin – Black Locust is the primary toxin containing plant. Signs and symptoms of toxalbumin include lack of appetite, diarrhea, weakness, depression, founder, weak pulse, hindquarter paralysis, cold extremities, dilated pupils and colic. Death from toxalbumin is rare, no treatment exists and it is a slow recovery.


  • Black Locust


Hypericin – Hypericin is a photosensitizing toxin. meaning that it is made worse by exposure to sunlight. Unpigmented skin becomes inflamed and itchy and large areas may slough. They may also go blind, convulse and die. St. Johnswort is the primary plant.


Hypericin / Photosensitizing plants:

  • St. Johns wort

  • Buckwheat

  • Goat Weed


Gallotannin – Oaks are most well known for carrying Tannins. Tannins are most concentrated in young leaves, and green acorns. Tannins affect the kidneys and gastrointestinal system. Signs and symptoms of Gallotannin toxins include poor appetite, emaciation, constipation followed by diarrhea, frequent urination, depression, excessive thirst and death. Mild cases may be treated with calcium hydroxide. This may also be used preventatively if oaks cannot be avoided. Also, thanks to the ruminant digestive system, Goats can usually neutralize mild tannins, although high concentrations can still pose a risk.

Gallotannin Plants:

  • Oak Trees/Acorns/Leaves


Resin Toxins – Resin toxins make up a smaller group of toxins generally presenting with signs and symptoms including incoordination, salivation, bloat, weakness, muscle spasm, coma, and death. Animals may be found down, unable to stand, with their heads weaving from side to side. There are many various plants and toxicities as well.

Resin Toxin Plants:

  • Marijuana

  • Rhododendron

  • Laurels

  • Azalea

  • Chinaberry

  • Fetterbush

  • Maleberry



  • Horse brushes

  • Tall Fescue

  • Black Walnut

  • Ponderosa Pine (mostly for cattle)

  • False Hellebore

  • Fiddleneck

  • Tarweed

  • Prickly lettuce

  • Russian Knapweed

  • Yellow star Thistle

  • Spurge Laurel

  • Sickle pod

  • Coffee senna

  • Sesbania

  • Rattlebox

  • Bracken Fern – carcinogen and causes bone marrow paralysis

  • Sweet Clover/White Sweet Clover – toxic when harvested or as silage, neutral fresh.

  • Also beware of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers

Cultivated grasses and grains can cause photosensitization and accumulate toxic levels of nitrates especially after fertilization. Seeds can also cause irritation and become entrapped in the throat and airways. Seeds and grains are also prone to toxic molds. These feeds should be silaged before feeding.


Saponin-containing plants:

Saponin is a chemical that is similar to hormones. They can cause a variety of different issues, including bloat and irritation of internal membranes.

  • Bag pod

  • Coffee Weed

  • Soapwort


Developing a healthy pasture or forage-based diet is a bit of an art, one that requires patience, observation, and experience. It all begins with awareness then learning from the resources available to you – this is active pasture management for your goats. Buddy up with a good goat friend and educate yourself on the flora in your region. With a bit of practice, you can build a superior goat-friendly pasture.

Goats Foraging Branches Leaves browsing hillside

Common Items that may/may not have been covered Above .

Pine - MOST Pines Needles and Pine Trees / Bark / Branches are fine for Goats to graze upon, there are studies that reflect parasitic benefits when they do consume them . . .

With the EXCEPTION of : Hemlock and Yew

Both Hemlock and Yew Pines are Toxic to a Goats Digestive System.

Common Garden Vegetables - Most homegrown Human Food Vegetables are fine for Goats to graze upon, . . . But be aware that plants in the Nightshade Category are dangerous as they contain small amounts of Alkaloids

in medium to large quantities. This includes Tomatoes, Potatoes, Eggplant, and Peppers, Tobacco, When in doubt about a vegetable to offer your herd -- always research first.

Other Common items around your Home that are Toxic or Damaging:

Morning Glory - Elderberry (tree and fruit) - Avocado (tree and fruit)

Elephant Ears, Palm Trees, Chaya Mexican Spinach Plant, Any and All types of

Cherry ( tree and fruit) Rhubarb, Foxglove, St. Johns Wort, Milkweed, Azaleas, and more.

I am happy to update this as additional information comes in.


  • Muklada, H., et al. “The Effect of Willow Fodder Feeding on Immune Cell Populations in the Blood and Milk of Late-Lactating Dairy Goats.” Animal, vol. 14, no. 12, 2020, pp. 2511–2522., doi:10.1017/s1751731120001494. 

  • Navon, Shilo, et al. “Volatiles and Tannins in Pistacia Lentiscus and Their Role in Browsing Behavior of Goats (Capra Hircus).” Journal of Chemical Ecology, vol. 46, no. 1, 2019, pp. 99–113., doi:10.1007/s10886-019-01124-x. 

  • Contributed by National Agricultural Library. Poisonous Plants Extension Goat Handbook. Nov. 2014, 

  • “Department of Animal Science – Plants Poisonous to Livestock.” Plants Poisonous to Livestock – Cornell University Department of Animal Science, 

  • “Goat Pastures and Forages.” Goats, 14 Aug. 2019, 

  • “Goat Pastures Chicory.” Goats, 14 Aug. 2019, 

  • “Goat Pastures Poisonous Plants.” Goats, 14 Aug. 2019, 

  • “Grazing Plants for Deworming Livestock.” Grazing Plants for Deworming Livestock (Critter Care Forum at Permies), 

  • Pfeifer, Mallory. “Livestock Owners Encouraged to Be Aware of Toxic Plants.” AgriLife Today, 3 Feb. 2021, 

  • “Sericea Lespedeza.” Forages, 

Oregon State University Small Farms: Poisonous Plants Commonly Found in Pastures:

University of Arkansas, University of Georgia, North Carolina State University joint publication:

Tennessee Agricultural Extension:


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