Goats and Cherry Trees
Hi, I have a forested area (pine and wild cherry with a few oak) that has an understory of blackberry and poison oak. I had hoped to get a pair of goats to browse the blackberry and poison oak, but am wondering if this is a bad idea as a I recently read that cherry leaves are highly toxic to goats. How likely is it for goats that also have access to hay to browse on the cherry to the level of toxicity? Should goats be kept entirely away from any cherry trees and other stone fruit trees? Thanks, Laura
Benton County Oregon
Hi -- because members of the Prunus family such as cherry are known to contain chemicals that are converted to cyanide by ruminants, it is difficult to ever recommend their consumption at any rate or level. As stated in the excellent poisonous plant resource POISONOUS PLANTS OF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA by John M. Kingsbury, 1964, fresh leaves are as able to cause death as wilted or damaged leaves. If goats were put in an area with cherry trees, one could not guarantee some goats would not sample twigs, bark, leaves and/or fruit to a toxic level, with or without other forage available. If you were able to provide a goatherd and monitor animals to ensure exclusive consumption of blackberry and poison oak (which the goats should be happy to eat), that might be one way to manage this habitat. You could also cut off and remove any cherry branches that goats could possibly reach, even while standing on hind legs; this would just leave the trunk, which goats might leave alone if plenty of blackberries and poison oak is available. If you have no plans for the wild cherry, perhaps you could cut these trees out entirely and be able to sleep well at night knowing all the goats would be safe from toxicity. If they were my goats, I just wouldn't feel comfortable having them near members of the Prunus family without 1:1 direct supervision to prevent consumption, which isn't practical. You are right to be concerned.