How to Protect Your Goats from Poisonous Plants
Goats will eat almost anything, but you must guard against your goats eating poisonous plants. Goats ignore poisonous plants most of the time, but because of their need to browse, they may try them just for variety. Whether a goat that eats a poisonous plant shows signs of poisoning depends on how much of the plant it eats, what part of the plant it eats, the condition of the plant (fresh or dried), the time of year, and the size and health of the goat.
Some of the common poisonous plants that might grow in your pasture or backyard include:
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)
Lily of the valley
Many landscaping plants are poisonous, and a few are so deadly that even a few leaves can make your goat extremely sick. Don't believe the old wives' tale that goats always know which plants are poisonous. Before you bring your goats home, check your yard for poisonous plants. The best resource for doing so is A Guide to Plant Poisoning of Animals in North America (Teton New Media), by Anthony P. Knight and Richard Walter. You can find many chapters of it online at the http://www.ivis.org). If your goats can get their heads through a fence to the neighbor's yard, make sure that poisonous plants aren't growing within reach there.
If you find any of these plants, either remove them or make sure that your fencing will keep your goats away. If the poison plant is a tree, make sure that the leaves won't fall into the pen in the autumn by removing the tree or situating the pen far from the tree. Dried leaves can be the most deadly part of the tree.
You usually don't need to freak out if one of your goats eats a little taste of any of these plants or trees, but you do need to keep an eye on him in case he shows signs of sickness.
Talk to your neighbors about poisonous plants and ask them not to throw their garden trimmings into the yard as a treat for your goats without asking first.