Goats & Christmas Trees

Asked November 7, 2013, 11:56 AM EST

Can goats eat Christmas trees? If so, how much can they eat before they get sick? If digestion of pine needles causes abortion in cows, is this the same for goats?

Washington County Utah

2 Responses

Hi -- in the only article I could read on the subject so far (R E Short, L F James, K E Panter, R B Staigmiller, R A Bellows, J Malcolm and S P Ford: Effects of feeding ponderosa pine needles during pregnancy: comparative studies with bison, cattle, goats and sheep. J ANIM SCI 1992, 70:3498-3504), the authors reported one to 10 days of ingestion of pine needles caused abortion in cattle and bison, but not sheep and goats fed needles for 14 days. HOWEVER, I would not use this information to consider feeding pine needles to pregnant goats safe. For one thing, there are many species of pine trees and only one was investigated in this study. For another, the sheep and goats only consumed 1 lb. or 1.75 lbs. of pine needles per day; if fed free choice, goats might consume much more than this. Lastly, the adverse possible outcome (abortion) is serious, so it is best to make a conservation decision. It would be safest to allow access to the pine trees by only non-pregnant animals. You probably already know that goats LOVE to eat pine needles, but this doesn't mean they are safe; goats don't inherently know what plants are safe or dangerous, just what tastes good and when. I have found no references that claim pine needles make animals sick, though. I have requested two more articles from interlibrary loan and will add more to this response if they include any more or different information.

Hi -- I finally received the other research article I was waiting for on this topic. Here is the part I excerpted that is relevant to goats:

"Pine needle toxicoses in cattle and goats. K.E. Panter, L.F. James, D.C. Baker, and R.E. Short, USDA/ARS Poisonous Plant Research Lab, Logan, UT. 1987 …In 1985 a report of abortion if goats eating bark from pine poles led us to believe goats may be a suitable animal model to study the effects of ponderosa pine in cattle. Twenty-four mixed Spanish breed goats were divided into 4 groups of 6 goats each. Group 1 was fed ground pine needles, group 2 was fed ground tips from branches, group 3 was fed ground bark and group 4 was controls. All goats in groups 1 through 3 were fed 200 grams of material AM and PM by stomach tube. No abortions occurred, however, toxicity was observed in the 3 treated groups. The pine tips were most toxic, the bark less toxic and the needles least toxic. Clinical signs of toxicity included muscular weakness, trembling, unusual stance, rumen stasis, bloating, opisthotunus, depression, loss of appetite, and death. Necropsy revealed no significant gross lesions. Pine needles, tips, or bark do not cause abortions in goats but are potentially toxic…"