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Keeping Livestock Safe from Poisonous Plants

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When we began our goat grazing/browsing venture, one of the first things I did was research. I wanted to make sure that we knew what the heck we were doing. Yes, goats are pretty incredible at clearing land. But how do we ensure we are keeping all of our livestock safe from poisonous plants?

The last thing any of us want is for our animals to get sick, to suffer, or to possibly die from something that we could have possibly prevented.

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Keeping Livestock Safe from Poisonous Plants

Before we go into safety, it’s important to differentiate livestock diets.

Goats and cattle have different diets and preferences. Cattle graze on mostly grass, whereas goats prefer to browse and eat weeds, brush, tree bark, etc. The goats can be rotated in to eliminate most of the undesirable vegetation that the cows have left behind.

small pgymy goat eating a pile of hay

The first step to livestock safety, is to research. Know what is a hazard in your area and then learn how to identify that plant.

Scout the area where you’re to keep your livestock and unsure there aren’t any toxic plants.

Remove plants if you’re able to do so or fence off the area to keep the livestock from entering the area.

Ensure they have access to plenty of fresh water, and salt & mineral.

This is a good resource for some poisonous plant identification.

white pygmy goat browsing and eating grass

What do livestock need to avoid?

Although the goat’s digestive system is similar to that of cattle and sheep, who are “grazers” and eat grass, goats are more related to deer, who are “browsers”.

As browsers, goats are designed to eat and prefer, brush and trees more than grass. It is natural for them to nibble a little here and a little there.

Because of this, even if you have poisonous plants on your property, very often, if they have plenty of “safe” browse, they rarely eat enough bad stuff to cause any real harm.

Here are some plants known to be poisonous to livestock. It is important that these plants are removed prior to livestock browsing on your property:

*note this list is not extensive. It is something I compiled through research. Whenever we are unsure of a plant, we look it up!

baby goat eating hay

Plants to avoid:


Burning Bush berries


Cassava (manioc)

Choke Cherries, wilting especially

Choke Cherry Leaves in abundance


Dog Hobble

Euonymus Bush berries

False Tansy

Holly Trees/Bushes

Ilysanthes floribunda

Japanese pieris (extremely toxic)

Japanese Yew

Larkspur- a ferny, flowering plant in shades of blue, pink and white.



Lily of the Valley (Pieris Japonica)


Nightshade- appears on both lists: Ok in moderation.


Pieris Japonica (extremely toxic)

Ponderosa Pine

Red Maples


Rhubarb leaves

Tu Tu (the Maori name for Coriaria arborea)

Wild Cherry


goats grazing in a grassy pasture

Safe Plants (because I once thought some of these were toxic, but I was wrong!)

Acorns (in moderation)

Blackberry bushes (all parts)

Cedar Needles (leaves) & Bark


Corn husks & silk



Douglas Fir


Fescue grass

Hemlock Trees (which are not the same as the poisonous hemlock, an herbaceous species of plant which is in the carrot family that bears the scientific name “Conium maculatum”)


Maple Trees, leaves & bark – (goats will readily strip the bark and kill the tree)
NOT Red Maples (Red Maples can be toxic)

Marijuana-in moderation



Mulberry (entire plant)


Nightshade – appears on both lists. Ok in moderation.

Pine Trees

Poison Ivy

Poison Oak

Poplar Trees

Poison Sumac, the vine

Rose, all, entire plant (goats loves roses)

Spruce trees

Sumac, the tree




Weeping Willow

Wild Rose, entire plant (goats loves roses)

For a free downloadable list of plants to avoid, sign up below!

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Sunday 15th of March 2020

Can goats eat knot weed?

Mary Woita

Tuesday 17th of March 2020

Yes, I haven’t found anything in researching that says it is unsafe.

Robin B. Summerlin

Thursday 12th of September 2019

Hello, I'm looking to purchase goats for clearing the vegetation that has overtook the area from the required clearing according to the forestry management services. After reading the article about the best goats suited for this I am wondering if Nubian goats are going to be an option as I had considered them for their milk in addition to there clearing benefits. How do Nubian goats fit into the grand scheme of things when purchasing goats for clearing?

Mary Woita

Sunday 15th of September 2019

The reason why they are not on the list is because we have not raised this breed for brush clearing. I’m sure that they would do a good job. However, you mention that you are raising them for milk. I want to mention that how you feed goats will determine the taste of their milk. Some vegetation especially can affect the taste.

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