Goats are common barnyard animals, and they are voracious grazers and are happy to test anything they encounter.
Understand some foliage has adverse effects on goats, so know the area where your goats graze.
I walk my pasture and woodlands at least once a week, looking for nuisance plants among the edible plants.
Pine trees are one you may have questions about, especially their pine needles.
Goats eat pine trees and pine needles, and it’s perfectly safe to do so. They consider the needles to be edible leaves. Goats eat pine bark and needles, which, in moderation, provide substantial benefits for them, as is true of virtually any tree they encounter.
We have some ancient and quite enormous Douglas Fir trees on our farm; while not true pines, they are an excellent analog; any Conifer from Douglas Fir to Ponderosa Pine and White Pine is fine.
And you may notice the bark on the larger trees is heavy and covered in lichen.
Lichen is also feed material for goats.
Why do Goats Forage on Pine Trees?
When I initially saw the goats eating the bark, I thought the lichen was their target.
Lichens are benign to goats and provide them with a small dose of carbohydrates.
But the bark offers other benefits as well.
Bark supplies the minerals supplementing their feed.
Learn more about what goats can and can’t eat.
Both bark and needles from pines contain tannins.
Goats like to eat above the shoulder, so you see them stretching out on lower branches to get at leaves.
If all this is available to them are larger trees, they will content themselves with the bark.
Tannins are chemical compounds known for their astringent properties and bitter taste.
They are abundant in nature and give lemons their punch, for instance.
What is more, tannins are natural dewormers, inhibiting intestinal parasites.
Tannins work by inhibiting the production of eggs in intestinal parasites and, further, by enhancing the resistance to parasitic infection.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) researched the effects of these compounds on ruminant livestock and documented their efficacy.
What Exactly Are Tannins?
Tannins get their name from the historical process of taking raw animal hides and tanning them into leather.
Extracts of tannin from a variety of sources were essential to the process.
But there is more to these molecules than livestock as tannins are also found in products as common as chocolate, beer, wine, tea, etc.
If you have ever chewed pine needles, you know they are very astringent.
This means they are loaded with tannins and have natural dewormer power.
Other Benefits of Tannins
In another study conducted by the NIH, it was discovered, “Feeding diets rich in condensed tannins have been used to alleviate the negative impact of transportation stress on carcass and meat quality.”
From controlling parasites and increased resistance, the consumption of tannins provides multiple benefits to the animal.
Can Tannins Be Too Much of a Good Thing?
This depends on how the tannins are ingested.
A very high level of tannin consumption has been linked to decreased digestive efficiency.
However, a controlled diet rich in tannins does not adversely affect goat health and improves digestive efficiency.
Understand where your goats browse and what they browse; moderation is key to good health.
Do Goats Prefer Any Particular Species of Pine Tree?
Goats aren’t picky, which may be a problem for them and you.
They will nibble on anything – including you and the types of trees with adverse effects.
The easygoing eating habits of goats mean they may become exposed to unhealthy items.
Again, be mindful of their eating habits and locations lest your goats suffer adverse health effects.
Will Goats Kill a Pine Tree?
Depending on the tree’s age and its relative bark thickness, goats can and will unintentionally kill trees.
By stripping the bark from trees, they disrupt the trees’ vascular system, meaning it can no longer get nutrients to the root system; the process is known as “girdling.”
A tree fully girdling will die, although, depending on the tree, there may be some slight chance of success in saving the tree.
Using Goat’s Foraging As Brush Control
But it is precisely the goat’s ability to kill a tree that makes it a valuable partner in eradicating unwanted or invasive foliage.
Do you have a Poison Ivy concern?
Poison Ivy is a favorite goat forage item, and they can make quick work of eradicating it.
Additionally, goats are considered excellent blackberry mowers.
Set the goats loose in a blackberry patch, and their affinity for stripping the delicate leave from the vines will eliminate the blackberries in short order.
Ensure they are placed in the patch so they can’t escape.
English Ivy is a widespread and destructive plant in the United States.
It quickly replaces native flora and fauna with a thick green mat, and it will grow over everything.
Aside from its “aesthetic value,” it is a weed, the removal of which requires chemical sprays injurious to all nearby plants.
Plus, it is labor-intensive to remove.
Although Ivy is considered a toxic plant to them, Goats will eat English Ivy to the point of eradication.
Stop Goats Eating The Plants You Want
If you want your goats to free-range, expect extensive damage to your garden, orchard, or prized flower bed.
Goats will devour any sapling they find, including a toxic plant sapling; they do not care if you just spent a week planting five acres of Noble Fir for your Christmas Tree project.
Have a young oak in the area with tasty oak leaves?
Not anymore; oak leaves are edible food for your goats.
Your choice is simple:
Build a goat pen for your goats, or build pens for your trees and plants.
Use stout poles and chicken wire, for example.
And the heavier, the better – you won’t go wrong with weld-wire fencing.
More Considerations For Goats And Pine
Goat owners offer their herds as Christmas tree recyclers.
Think of leftover trees, like Christmas trees, as a special treat for your herd.
Monitor your baby goats.
While pine needles are good for them, you don’t want them to eat too much.
And without you, they may get more than they bargained for.
Water intake is crucial for goats.
They require upwards of two to three gallons a day, more if they are nursing.
Much of their water needs are met if they feed on lush greenery.
Still, provide them with fresh water daily.
Goats are escape artists.
Keep them sequestered to the area you want them to clear; otherwise, they will wander, consider a portable solar-powered electric fence like this one at Amazon.
Provide a good shelter for your herd; consider building a transportable shelter.
Whether your shelter is static or mobile, your goats know precisely where to return when the sun goes down.