Goats 101 – Basic Goat Care

Below you will find some of the most common questions we get at the rescue.

When it comes to getting your goat, we say, go meet them! Over the years we have seen many instances of people being “chosen” by a goat, often one very different than what they thought they wanted. Here at the rescue, all breeds, all genders, all sizes, goats with and without horns, all live together, in harmony. They work out a hierarchy, find their place in the herd (which often includes other species), and settle right in. Finding the right goat or goats is usually as simple as determining what you want (Pet? Fiber? Pack goat? Brush removal?), evaluating your property, and meeting some goats. The right match always comes along.

What kind of goat is the friendliest/makes the best pet?

All goats are individuals. And though there may be tendencies within a breed, there are also exceptions.

If you research any specific breed, you will find that it is the healthiest, friendliest, most trainable, quietest, mellowest, prettiest breed out there, according to its supporters (and breeders).  At New Moon Farm we have known loving, smart, gentle goats of every breed. We have also known pushy, loud, obnoxious goats of every breed. They are individuals, and breed alone is never a guarantee of temperament.

Sometimes people choose based on size, which is not always the best plan. Smaller goats are not necessarily easier to handle than big ones. A bossy little pygmy can use their low center of gravity to drag even the strongest person around. And they can squeeze through small openings. Whereas a better trained, 200 pound Boer can be very easy to lead and care for. That said, taller goats can jump higher…

The best way to choose a goat is to go out and meet them. Interact with the animals, and see what attracts you, see who you connect with.

Should I get a male or female goat?

For starters, you do not want a buck (an intact male) as a pet. In addition to producing smelly musk, they have the attractive habit of peeing on their own beards, ears, faces and front legs (apparently the girls find this irresistible). Bucks can also be very pushy, sometimes downright aggressive in rutting season (though of course, there are many sweet, gentle, if stinky, bucks out there).

However a neutered male (a wether) will usually not display any of this obnoxious breeding behavior, and they are generally sweet, friendly guys. Does (females) can also be wonderful, bonded pets. Does do not have to be milked unless they have been bred, a common misconception. We have found that both genders can be sweet, affectionate pets, and generally all get along well with each other.

Should I get a dairy, meat, or fiber goat?

Goats are generally categorized based on their “purpose.” There are dairy, meat and fiber breeds, as well as miniatures. There are also all sorts of intentional crosses and random mixes, and they all make great pets! Choosing a goat based on how they look is not necessarily a bad thing – you will spend a lot of time looking at your goats – but any healthy, happy goat can make a great pet. At New Moon Farm we have found that as we get to know each goat, their personality becomes far more important than their appearance.

Are goats right for me?

Regardless of where you plan to get your goat, these are some important questions to consider before bringing a goat home:

  • Is it legal to have goats in my county, city, & neighborhood?
  • Do I have enough room for at least two goats to run, play and be active? Two average-sized goats need at least 3,000 square feet of fenced space.
  • Do I have a sturdy, goat proof fence in place with a strong gate? Good goat fencing is at least 4 feet high, with small enough openings that a goat can’t climb out or get stuck.
  • Do I have a three-sided shelter that will protect goats from all weather, including sun, rain and wind? 8 square feet of shelter space per goat is ideal.
  • Am I willing to buy hay to feed goats? While pasture and weeds will often be enough in the spring and summer, when the plants are dormant goats need supplemental feed, approximately 4-6 lbs per goat per day.
  • Am I interested in learning how to trim hooves or willing to pay a farrier to do it every 6-8 weeks? Goats will not wear down their feet on their own. Lack of regular hoof care leads to painful arthritis, hoof rot and other problems.
  • Am I be prepared to pay for planned and unplanned vet bills? Just like cats and dogs, goats require annual vaccinations and parasite testing.
  • Who will check on, feed and care for my goats when I am away from home?
  • Have I considered that goats can live well into their teens?

Feel free to discuss these questions with our Adoptions Coordinator if you have any questions.

Can I have just one goat?

No matter what breed or gender, no goat is happy alone. Goats are herd animals — they should never be alone no matter how socialized to people they are. When you go in your house at night, a single goat is left alone. As herd animals, it is very stressful for them to be alone, and they will tend to be nervous, cry more, and spend a lot of energy trying to get to other goats or their people.

Do goats and dogs get along?

Dogs are not appropriate companions for goats. Though many dogs and goats get along, and can become closely bonded, we strongly recommend that dogs and goats not be left alone together. Even the gentlest dog is still a predator, and an innocent game of chase can quickly turn deadly.

What should I feed my goats?

Be aware of the dynamics at feeding time.  Feed competition can be a real problem when feeding even a herd of two.  An older or more timid goat may be bullied away from the food, leading to weight loss.  We recommend having multiple feeding areas, ideally one more than the number of goats, to alleviate this.  It may be necessary to feed a “low status” goat separately to ensure that he/she gets enough to eat.


As with all animals, access to clean water at all times is vital to every goat’s health. There should be clean, fresh water at all times. Unfortunately, goats’ butts are often at the same height as the water tub, and they sometimes poop in their water. Of course then they won’t drink it, which is why it must be checked daily.

Many goats will not drink extremely cold water A tank heater or heated bucket will keep the water above freezing, which will encourage them to drink in cold weather (and you won’t have to chip out the ice). This is especially important for wethers. You can also add frozen apple juice concentrate, Gatorade, or other sweet juices. This may entice them to drink more even if it is cold (always also offer plain water). Access to salt will also encourage drinking.

Trace Mineral Salt

Free choice, loose, mineralized salt or a mineralized salt block must be available at all times. This provides micro-minerals that may be deficient in forage. Here in the northwest, our soils are deficient in selenium. The desire for salt gets the goats to consume the minerals they need. Salt intake also increases thirst, and therefore gets the goats to drink more water. Again, this is especially important for wethers.

There are many kinds of “goat minerals” – loose powder, small crumbles, large bricks. Any will accomplish what’s needed. There are specialized “goat blocks” on the market – they cost more and are usually the same as a mineralized block, with added molasses.


Goats are ruminants; they have a four-chambered stomach, and they chew their cud. Ruminants meet their energy and protein needs by ingesting high quality forage. In order to keep their rumen healthy and functioning properly, the majority of their diet should come from roughage.

Goats are browsers by nature, preferring weeds, brush and trees to grass. Though they will graze, they will usually seek out weeds such as dandelions, blackberries, thistle, salmonberry and alder first. When not grazing summer pasture, and in the winter when plants are dormant, they do well on good quality grass hay. Do not feed large quantities of alfalfa, which is too high in calcium & protein. Goats that are in production – breeding, milking, etc – do well on alfalfa. For pet goats, it is too rich, leading to fat goats and potential urinary tract & bloat problems.

Tossing them downed branches (of safe trees), un-adorned x-mas trees, and other safe yard waste makes them very happy. For goats, variety really is the spice of life!

Do not feed grass clippings, as they ferment quickly and can lead to bloat.

Be sure that neighbors and kids know not to feed your goats any yard waste without
checking with you first, as many common ornamentals are toxic.


Goats should eat approximately 2-3 pounds of hay per 100 pounds of body weight. The crude protein requirement is 7- 9% (for non-production, adult goats), therefore grass hay is generally adequate. Your goats will let you know what they need – if they are wasting a lot, you can cut back. If they are cleaning up every scrap, you can increase the amount fed.

Moldy, dusty or poor quality hay is not good for your goat.

Straw is bedding, not food, even though they might eat it.

Hay pellets do not provide the long fiber necessary for proper rumen function. However, pellets and cubes are a great option for senior goats who no longer have enough “tooth” left to chew hay. Moistened pellets/cubes are easier for the old guys to chew and digest.


Grain is generally not necessary for pet goats. This refers to all grain feeds, pellets, highly digestible corn, oat, barley (COB) products as well as commercial feeds. Just about anything that comes in a sack contains grain. Bread, cereal and crackers are grain!

Just because it has a goat on the bag doesn’t mean your goat needs it! Though grain or feed is recommended for does that are producing milk, or wethers being fattened for slaughter, most pet goats don’t need it. It is usually too rich, and too high in protein. Grain can certainly be given in small quantities as a treat, and can be a necessity with older goats who don’t have enough tooth left to get enough nutrients out of hay alone.

A common problem with wethers (neutered males) is urolithiasis (urinary tract blockage). To prevent occurrence of urinary calculi (stones), wethers should not have any hay that is more than 10% alfalfa, or grain that has alfalfa as a main ingredient. Too much grain or feed can also lead to stone formation.

Sudden access to large quantities of grain (unintentionally) can cause “grain overload,” a potentially fatal rumen acidosis (bloat). Be sure to store any grain securely, in an area outside of the goats’ pen.

Chicken scratch can change the Ph in a goat’s rumen causing painful bloat, it also doesn’t dissolve well, and can clump up and block the intestine.

Baking Soda

Many people keep a tub of baking soda in the goats’ pen.  This is most often seen with dairy goats, who are fed large quantities of grain.  Goats with a mild rumen acidosis will often self-medicate this way.  Though it can settle an upset stomach, baking soda is not a cure for severe acidosis, or bloat.


In moderation, treats are an important part of any goat’s life.  Carrots, apples, bananas, watermelon, peanuts,  graham crackers, saltines, bread, horse treats – if it is yummy and vegetarian, most goats will love it.  We give veggie and fruit scraps to the goats – peels, cores and all – instant compost.  Be aware of grain in treats.  Here at the rescue, the most popular treats by far are Snaffle Bits (www.snafflebitshorsetreats.com).  They are full of good, healthy ingredients, and are locally made.

How often do female goats go into heat?

Most does will go into heat every 18-21 days from September through December, though some breeds (like Nigerian Dwarf Goats) cycle all year, and it will usually last 1-3 days. If there is no buck around, she may or may not exhibit any signs that she is in heat.

How do I get a goat to move?

Don’t push… they will just lean into you! Pushing on a goat’s head is an invitation to play. We recommend instead teaching them to walk with a collar or halter and lead. Goats are very smart – they can learn this just like a dog. Another way to move them a short distance is to cup one hand under the chin, and use the other hand to pull the tail forward, up over the back. Don’t yank or pull too hard, just lift forward. For most goats this is a great “go” button.

What do I do when it's cold?

Goats that are in good weight can withstand cold temperatures without any problems. They develop a good undercoat (cashmere) in the winter, and will curl up with a buddy for warmth. Heat lamps are not necessary if they have good shelter, but are usually appreciated!

Persistent shivering can be a sign of illness. The best way to keep a goat warm is to provide more hay. The slow fermentation process of digesting hay creates long-lasting internal heat. Grain and mash digests quickly, providing less internal heat that dissipates quickly. Of course, a nice cozy goat-coat can be a great thing for an elderly or thin goat.

Are horns a problem?

Our answer is no. Horns are a beautiful, natural part of the goat, and will not be a problem if you are set up properly. All goats, both male and female, are born with horns, with the exception of a small percentage that are born “polled,” or hornless. Goats’ horns continue to grow throughout their lives. The horn is actually part of the skull – the horn material that we see is surrounding a core of living bone; it has a blood supply, flesh and nerves. Goats that you see without horns have been “dehorned” or “dis-budded,” a painful, and in our opinion unnecessary, process – the emerging horn bud is burned off with a hot iron, often also burning an area of skin and flesh around the horn.

To us, dehorning is similar to de-clawing cats, or ear cropping in dogs – people do it because it is convenient, or a style/tradition they like, or because they see others doing it. Removing the horns of an adult goat is essentially amputation – it is the removal of part of the skull, which opens up a hole into the sinus cavity. It is bloody and painful. If you ask people who support dehorning why they do it, they will tell you that horns are dangerous. We strongly disagree. In 15 years of rescue, over 1500 animals have come through New Moon Farm. Only two goats were aggressive with their horns, and both were intact males. With the exception of those two bucks, we’ve never had a goat attack a person with their horns, and we’ve never seen a goat impale another animal.

Of course, the horns are hard, and pointed at the end. Most of us have had a goat turn their head quickly, and bump us, causing a bruise. Adults and kids alike need to pay attention when around goats with horns. But getting bumped is not the same as getting butted, something we very rarely see.

What are horn scurs?

One problem of  dehorning is that it seems to be done correctly only about half of the time. If not completely destroyed, the horn tissue will continue to grow. But without the base of bone, it has no support, and no form. These growths are known as scurs, and create recurring problems. Because they are not truly horns, they are often loose, and will rip off when bumped or rubbed, causing an open, bloody sore. We estimate that 75% of the dehorned goats we’ve seen have had some degree of scurs.

Do horned goats require special fencing?

One concern people have is that goats with horns can get their heads stuck in fencing. However if you have proper fencing, getting their head stuck is not an issue. The benefits of keeping their horns, including playing, scratching themselves, and keeping cooler in hot weather make it more logical to allow them to keep their horns.

What kind of fencing is needed for goats?

Solid, safe fencing is extremely both for keeping goats in, and keeping predators out. We recommend 4 feet or higher wire mesh. Some good options are:

  • “No climb” or “horse fence” which has 2″ x 4″ openings
  • “Sheep fence” that has 3″ square openings
  • Chain link
  • Livestock panels

The thicker the gauge of fencing, the better it will hold up to rubbing and general abuse. Wrapped joints are better than welded wire as the tack welds to give out over time. Fencing is expensive, and putting it up is hard work. It’s better to spend a little more up front than have to redo it after a few years.

The fence must be flush to the ground and pulled taut to prevent dogs and coyotes from digging under to get in, and to stop goats from pushing their heads under to get out. We strongly recommend adding a strand of electric fence wire (“hot wire”) at the top and bottom (about 8″-10″ from the ground) as additional reinforcement. The hotwire isn’t what keeps the goats in, but it will save your fence.

Goats with horns can get caught in wire fencing if they stick their heads through, so the smaller the openings, the better. Again, a strand of electric wire will usually stop them from getting their heads that close. A strand at the top will stop them from climbing up the fence, or leaning over it, or trying to jump out. The low wire also stops them from rubbing on the fence and stretching it out. A strand of hot wire, low down, on the outside of the fence is a great way to deter obsessive dogs.

Post and rail and electric fences alone are not sufficient. Goats are too smart for hot wire – they either time the shocks and climb out between zaps, or flip it up onto their furry backs where the shock is muted. Post and rail with mesh, or mesh with hot wire are great choices.

If you want to move a goat around an unfenced area for clearing, please consider using a portable corral, electric netting, or some sort of moveable fencing.

Gates are common escape routes for  goats. They will often unlatch, climb over or squeeze through seemingly secure gates. The “sure latch” gate latches seem to be truly goat-proof.

What kind of shelter do goats need?

Goats are wimps about wind and rain, and definitely need somewhere to get out of the weather. At the minimum, a shelter should have three sides, a roof, and a dry floor. Here are some additional tips:

  • Plan your shelter based on your local weather patterns – put the back of the shelter to the source of the prevalent wind.
  • The roof should slope away from the opening so the entrance doesn’t get all of the run-off and turn into a mud bog.
  • Build the shelter tall enough that you can stand up inside. People tend to build animal shelters small. The problem is, it makes it really hard to clean out a house that you have to crawl into!
  • Goats love to have platforms or other raised places to sleep and relax. As prey animals, this gives them a better view of their surroundings, and it keeps them off the cold ground. Pallets with plywood or rubber mats on top make great goat platforms.
  • Straw, sawdust or shavings can be used as bedding – as long as it stays dry. Wet bedding will lead to hoof rot as well as respiratory problems if it is wet with urine.
  • A great option if you don’t have room to store sawdust is pelleted animal bedding. Take a 40# bag and dump it in a wheelbarrow, Fill the wheelbarrow with enough water to almost cover the pellets. Wait an hour and presto! Sawdust. The water is usually just enough to fluff the pellets without saturating them.
  • Though some people like to lock goats into a stall at night, this isn’t necessary unless you live in a high predator area. They graze, wander and play 24 hours a day.
  • How much shelter space you will need depends on how many goats you have, how big they are, and how well they get along. Generally at least 8 square feet per goat is the minimum. Some goats share well, curling up together to sleep, sharing food, etc. Others can be very territorial, blocking other goats from coming into a shelter, bullying at feeding time, etc. Personalities often dictate the space necessary. Sometimes a second doorway is needed so that one goat can’t block the way in.

Other considerations:

  • Goats do like to climb and play on things—an old picnic table, stumps, boulders, cable spools, or anything else they can jump up on provides hours of fun and entertainment for the goats (and you). Our teeter-totter is a favorite!
  • Goats really like to rub and scratch, especially in the spring when they are shedding. Used push broom heads, mounted to fence posts or the side of a building with the bristles out, make excellent head and butt scratchers! Used street-sweeper brushes are also great – if mounted at an angle, the goats can get up underneath and scratch their backs as well. However, do not use the big round brushes if you have horses – they can get their tails tangled in the brush, and get severely injured trying to get loose. Scratch-n-all is a brand of wall mountable curry combs that the goats (and horses and dogs) just love. Visit them at www.scratchnall.com, and tell them we sent you!
  •  Goats love to eat bark. They will strip a tree in no time at all. This is great if you are hoping to clear out some alder, young cottonwood, etc. But if there are trees in your goat pasture that you want to keep, be sure to wrap them in chicken wire (at least a double layer), up as high as the goats can reach standing on their hind legs, or fence them off.
  • Fruit trees can be an issue if they drop lots of fruit where the goats can gorge themselves. A few apples, plums or pears won’t hurt, but more than one a day can lead to bloat. It’s better to pick up the fallen fruit, and dole it out to them over time.
  • Flies can be an annoyance anywhere that there are animals (and manure). There really is no way to eliminate flies completely, but there are lots of things we can do to minimize their presence. The best way to keep the fly numbers down is to remove manure regularly. Additionally, for the past 5 years, we have been using Fly Predators. These tiny parasitic wasps feed on fly larvae, killing the flies before they mature. Spalding Labs (www.spalding-labs.com) is a great resource for ordering Fly Predators. If you decide to go this route, let them know we sent you!
  • Mosquitoes can also be a problem anywhere there is standing water (including water troughs). Mosquito Dunks are a product that is safe for animals, but will kill mosquito larvae before they mature. Of course, encouraging birds such as swallows to live on your property will dramatically cut down the number of bugs that have survived the predators and traps.

Can I tie out a goat to clear brush?

Never tie out a goat unless you are with them. Why?

Tied goats are vulnerable to dogs and other predators.

It only takes a few minutes for a goat to get twisted in the rope, chain, etc. and have it pulled so tightly around their leg or foot that it cuts off circulation, or breaks a bone. We have had several goats come into the rescue missing either a foot or a part of a leg from a “staked out” accident. It’s just not worth it. We also know of many strangulations.

We also recommend collars be left off unless you are working with the goats. They can get caught on all sorts of things. this is particularly important for goats with horns, as they can get a horn caught under another’s collar, and choke them.

What are normal vital signs for a goat?

Get to know your goats – there is always some variation, so its good to know what is “normal” for your particular goats. If you need to call the vet, check the vitals first – this information can be very helpful.


This is often the first clue to a potential problems. A healthy goat is lively, inquisitive, and hungry!

  • Is your goat usually active, or mellow? Loud or quiet? Pay attention, and note when they act differently.
  • Of you see a goat eating, then lying down to chew his/her cud, his/her digestion is good.


Normal is 102 – 104 degrees Farenheit. This may vary with ambient temperature and activity. The temperature is taken rectally, with a basic digital thermometer. Use lubricant such as K-Y Jelly.

Heart rate/pulse

Normal range is 70-90 beats per minute (at rest). It is very difficult to find a goat’s pulse at an artery. It’s better to use a stethoscope, pressed to the left side of the rib cage, behind the elbow.


Normal range is 15-30 breaths per minute.

Rumen contractions

Normal is 1-2 per minute. The rumen is primarily located on the left side. Sometimes you can see the contractions. Sometimes you have to listen with a stethoscope. Contractions sound like “the ocean in a seashell” or “wind in the trees.” And sometimes they’re so loud you can hear them across the field!

Mucus membrane color

Ideally mucus membranes are bright pink (though this varies). Check the fold of the lower eyelid or capillary refill time. Or you can press a finger on the gum to blanche an area. It should refill/turn pink in 1-2 seconds.

If they are too pale this could mean anemia from a high parasite load.

There is a tool called the FAMACHA chart designed for checking color. However the FAMACHA scoring system is only useful when dealing with the Haemonchus contortus parasite, which isn’t typically a big concern outside of large production herds.

Hydration status

Perform a “skin pinch test” of the eyelid or skin – it should snap right back. Mucus membranes should be moist and warm, and eyes should not be sunken.

Body condition scoring system

Learn to feel your goat! Check the back, between the hips and ribs, and rib cover. You cannot assess the body condition score (BCS) from just looking!

A big belly does not always mean a goat is fat. It can be due to conformation and rumen.

Determine the BCS every 6-8 weeks when you trim hooves. Keep records to track trends. And if you find an unexplained loss of body condition, evaluate your feed program, observe feeding behavior, do a fecal exam to check for parasites, and have a vet check his/her teeth.

Illustrations an descriptions are available on Maxine Kinne’s website: http://kinne.net/bcs.htm


Goats are heavier than they look.  They tend to be denser and weigh more than a comparably sized dog.  You can weigh a goat using a weight tape that is designed for goats (not for horses).  This isn’t 100% accurate, but gets you pretty close if used correctly. It’s important to know your goats’ weight for proper dosing of medications and de-wormers.  Here are some general guidelines for weight:

Miniature breeds (Pygmy, Nigerian Dwarf):

  • Typical adult wether:  50-80#
  • Typical adult doe:  40-75#
  • Extra small wether:  35-60#
  • Extra small doe:  25-50#

Dairy breeds (Nubian, LaMancha, Alpine, etc):

  • Adult wether:  150-200#
  • Adult doe:  100-150#

“Mini” dairy breeds can range from miniature breed stature, to full size.

Meat breeds (Boer, Kiko):

  • Adult wether:  200-275#
  • Adult doe:  150 – 225#

Of course, there are smaller-than-usual and larger-than-usual individuals in every breed. And mixes can vary greatly from their parents’ standards. These guidelines provide a general range as a starting place.

What plants are toxic to goats?

Unfortunately, poisoning is not uncommon in goats. They don’t have the instinct to know what is poisonous.  They are curious, always hungry and don’t always know what is bad for them.  Many common ornamental plants are deadly, and it is up to us as goat caretakers to ensure that their pastures and pens are free of dangerous plants.

VERY IMPORTANT: Rhododendrons are extremely poisonous to goats, as are laurel, Japanese pieris, azaleas, yew, goldenchain, foxglove and many other ornamental shrubs and plants including flowers and bulbs. Even a few Rhododendron leaves can kill a goat. Grass clippings can also be dangerous, as they ferment rapidly.  To be safe, please make sure your children, neighbors, and children’s friends know NOT to feed your goats anything over the fence. If you search for  Goats and Poisonous online you can get a complete listing.  If you suspect that your goat has ingested toxic plants, this is a red alert – call the vet immediately.

The Most common Toxic Plants: Members of the Heath (Ericaceae) Family

  • Heath family – Rhododendrons and Azaleas
  • Kalmia spp.—Laurels
  • Pieris spp.—Japanese pieris

As with dogs and chocolate, some goats are more sensitive than others to these toxins.  Also, the level of toxicity in a plant can vary with location, soil, subspecies, etc.  Don’t take the risk.  Be careful.  Goats have died from eating just 1 or 2 leaves of a highly toxic plant.

Dangerously toxic plants, zero tolerance:

Common Name Poisonous Parts Symptoms
Azalea All parts Burning of lips and mouth, salivation, nausea, severe vomiting, coma and death
Clematis All parts Inflammation and blistering of skin, gastrointestinal irritation.
Cocklebur All parts, esp. seedlings, seeds Loss of appetite, vomiting, weakness, ataxia, spasms and death.
Foxglove Flowers, leaves, seeds Contracted pupils, nausea, vomiting, cramps, severe headache, irregular heartbeat, labored breathing, convulsions, death.
Golden Chain All parts, pods, seeds, leaves, bark Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, drowsiness, dizziness, fever, irregular heartbeat, dilated pupils, convultions, coma, and death.
Laurel (all) Seeds, leaves, bark Rapid breathing leading to low and difficult breathing, anxiety, excitement, confusion, headache, vomiting, dizziness, can cause death.
Lily All parts Burning pain in the mouth and throat, salivation, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, dilated pupils, slow and irregular heartbeat, coma and death.
Lupine Seeds Birth defects, spasms, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, headache, abdominal pain, and death.
Pieris, Japanese Pieris All parts Burning of lips and mouth, salivation, nausea, severe vomiting, coma and death.
Pitted Fruit Trees (cherry, plum peach) Seeds, leaves, bark Rapid breathing leading to low and difficult breathing, anxiety, excitement, confusion, headache, vomiting, dizziness, can cause death.
Sweet pea Foliage, seeds Paralysis, convulsions, death.
Rhododendron All parts Burning of lips and mouth, salivation, nausea, severe vomiting, coma and death.
Yew Leaves, seeds, twigs Gastroenteritis, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, drowsiness, irregular heartbeat, labored breathing, trembling, collapse and death.

Partially toxic, but not always dangerous

If a goat gets a small amount of these plants, mixed in with lots of other material, they may be fine. They might get a belly ache, but not as severe a threat as the above list:

Common Name Poisonous Parts Symptoms
Avocado All fruit, leaves, stem, pit Inflammation of the mammary glands, decreased milk production, difficulty breathing, fluid around heart, heart rhythm problems, death
Baneberry All parts Stomach cramps, dizziness, vomiting, circulation failure, headache and death
Black locust Bark, leaves, seeds Lassitude, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, delirium, coma and death.
Boxwood All parts Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, convulsions, respiratory failure, skin irritation on contact.
Bracken fern All parts Thiamine deficiency which can be fatal. Cumulative effects may cause cancer
Buckeye Fruit Drunkenness, trembling, muscular weakness, incoordination, vomiting, irritated mucous membranes and paralysis.
Crocus All parts, esp. bulbs and seeds Burning pain in the mouth and throat, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, low blood pressure, shock, convulsions, coma and death
Daffodil and Narcissus All parts, esp. bulbs Dizziness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,trembling, convulsions and death.
Death camus Bulbs, leaves, flowers, pollen Salivation, weakness, respiratiory difficulty, nausea, convulsions, coma, death
Dogbane Rhyzomes Increased temperature and pulse, dilated pupils, discolored mucous membranes, cold extremities.
Ergot Fungus Irritable digestive tract, loss of balance, convulsions,drowsiness.
Horsetail All parts Destroys vitamin B1, causing weight loss, weakness, eventual death.
Larkspur All parts Constipation, bloating, dilation of pupils, vomiting, depression, paralysis and death.
Milkweed Leaves, fruits, stems Staggering, depression, weakness, labored respiration, dilated pupils, tetanic spasms, coma and death.
Nightshade Leaves, immature fruit Abdominal pain, headache, flushed skin, tiredness, vomiting, thirst, difficult breathing, paralysis, dilated pupils, diarrhea and death.
Oak tree Acorns, young leaves Constipation, blood in urine.
Oleander All parts, esp. leaves, stems Severe gastroenteritis, diarrhea, abdominal pain, sweating, weakness, cardiac irregularities, increasing heart rate and slow heart rate resulting in death.
Poison hemlock All parts Teeth grinding, muscle spasms, respiratory failure, death.
Poison ivy, poison oak All parts Itching, burning, redness of skin, blisters.
Pokeweed All parts Burning of mouth and throat, salivation, severe stomach irritation, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, spasms, convulsions, and death.
Poppies All parts Stupor, coma, shallow and slow breathing, respiratory and circulatory depression.
Rhubarb Leaves Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, drowsiness, convulsions, coma and death.
Serviceberry Leaves, twings Rapid breathing followed by slow and difficult breathing, anxiety, excitement, confusion, headache, vomiting, dizziness.
Skunk Cabbage All parts Physical irritation and swelling of mouth and throat.
Tansy ragwort and groundsels Leaves Liver lesions, enlarged liver, abdominal pain, weakness, staggering, death. Can be passed on to milk.
Water hemlock All parts, roots Nausea, salivation, vomiting, convulsions, fever, low hear rate, abdominal pain, dilated pupils, delirium, coma, respiratory paralysis, death.

Potentially toxic, though often eaten by goats with no problems:

Common Name Poisonous Parts Symptoms
Apple, crab apple Seeds Rapid breathing leading to low and difficult breathing, anxiety, excitement, confusion, headache, vomiting, dizziness, can cause death.
Buttercup All parts Inflammation and blistering of skin, gastrointestinal irritation.
Domestic pears Seeds, leaves, bark Rapid breathing leading to low and difficult breathing, anxiety, excitement, confusion, headache, vomiting, dizziness, can cause death.
English holly Berries, leaves Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness.
English ivy All parts, esp. leaves and berries Vomiting, diarrhea, spasms, staggering and paralysis.
Knotweed, knapweed All parts Interference with calcium metabolism and phototoxicity.
Red and white clover All parts, leaves Laminitis, blood disorders and photosensitivity.
Scotch broom All parts Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, abdominal pain.
St John’s Wort All parts Photosensitization: blisters, swelling and lesions on the skin, leading to loss of appetite, diarrhea, increased respiration and heartbeat, high temperature, blindness, convulsions, coma and death.
Vetch Foliage, seeds Rapid breathing followed by slow and difficult breathing, anxiety, excitement, confusion, headache, vomiting, dizziness.

More Information

ASPCA  Toxic and Non Toxic Plants List: www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/plants/

Cornell University’s Toxic Plants and the Common Caprine List: www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/goatlist.html

Fiasco Farm’s List of Edible and Poisonous Plants (list at the bottom of page): http://fiascofarm.com/goats/poisonousplants.htm

Maxine Kinne’s Poisonous Plant List: http://kinne.net/poi-list.htm

What are the signs of poisoning in goats?

These signs are usually seen within six hours:

  • Off feed/foaming at mouth
  • Dry heaves and/or vomiting
  • Vocalization
  • Depression, weakness, ataxia, seizure
  • Coma/death (dose dependent)

If you suspect that your goat has ingested toxic plants, this is a red alert – call the vet immediately.

What are some first aid tips for poisoning?

If you suspect that your goat has ingested toxic plants, this is a red alert – call the vet immediately.

First Aid

  • Try to determine species and amount ingested; remove all possible remaining leaves/branches.
  • It’s best to treat your pet before clinical signs occur! Call your vet—your goat may need to be tubed with activated charcoal or another intestinal adsorbent.  Keeping a tube of activated charcoal paste in your first aid kit is a good idea.
  • Make up the following home remedy (this may work if only a small amount of toxic plant ingested AND if administered before clinical signs occur):

Rhody (Heath) Drench
(at home mixture)

2 T. Epsom salt
¼ c. Molasses
1 tsp. powdered Ginger (“the antidote”)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
bring to a volume of 1-2 cups with luke warm water

Directions: Drench (give orally) with large syringe, every 2 hrs until signs resolve; works best after recent exposure, before vomiting occurs.

Do I need to take my goat to the vet for annual check-ups?

It is important that your goats be seen annually by a veterinarian for a wellness exam. Not only will the vet take care of routine maintenance concerns, but she/he will often catch problems that are developing before they become serious. Though many people opt to do much of this care themselves, we highly recommend having a veterinarian see your goats at least once a year, just like your cats and dogs. Developing a relationship with your vet during a routine exam helps a lot when you need a vet in an emergency, and gives you someone to call with questions.

Though many goat owners are “Do It Yourself” types, vets cannot make a living on emergencies. They need the steady work of routine maintenance and regular clients in order to make a steady income. If you have an emergency with a goat, and do not have a regular vet, it can be difficult to get someone to come see your animals.

Additionally, there are very few products or drugs that are labeled for goats. There is not enough commercial goat production in the US for companies to spend the money on researching goats specifically, or run tests/trials on them. Therefore, goats are often treated with “off label” medications. FDA regulations require a valid client-patient relationship for off label use. If you have a regular vet, they can prescribe these drugs for you if needed.

A basic wellness exam should include:

  • A physical examination, including vital signs, weight and body condition score
  • A fecal examination (a sample will be collected for testing) to determine best deworming
  • Vaccinations
  • CD&T (Clostridium perfringens type C/D and tetanus)—annual vaccine
    to prevent enterotoxemia and tetanus
  • Rabies—recommended in certain situations, especially if used for petting zoos, etc.
  • Early identification of disease/maintenance of chronic conditions
  • A chance to ask questions

It can be hard to find a vet that specializes in goats, but we are lucky in the NW to have many vets that care for small ruminants in our area.