Many homesteaders keep goats for a variety of reasons. Whether for breeding, milking, meat, or simply as family pets, you want to keep them as healthy as possible. Growing certain plants for goats can benefit their health and lowers feed costs.
There are also plants you can grow as a treat for them. Most goats have their favorites and will start getting excited when they see you approach with a bunch or two.
There are also some plants to avoid, so we’ll look at those as well.
First, let’s look at beneficial plants for your goats and why they’re good.
Beneficial Treat Plants for Goats
These plants make an enticing treat for your goat or can be used in moderation to improve their health. Consider this list to complement their grazing, not to be their main source of food:
1. Cover Crops Like Alfalfa and Rye
Everything in moderation is a good motto for us to live by, and the same can be said when choosing plants for goats.
Grow cover crops in a spare pasture or a little garden on your homestead where you want to improve the soil, rather than where the goats graze. This way, you can harvest and feed to the goats when you want to, and they won’t get too much at one time.
Alfalfa is rich in protein and calcium, along with other minerals. These are great for overall health and growth and are especially beneficial for lactating does and their kids.
Alfalfa and rye give energy as well.
Do you grow sunflowers either for fun, food, or as flowers to sell? If you do, put a few aside or, if have some that get too old to sell or eat yourself, give them to your goats. They love them.
Sunflowers are loaded with minerals beneficial to goats, especially Vitamin E. They love to eat the whole plant.
3. Cole Crops
What are cole crops? Simply put, they are things like collards, broccoli, turnips, and cauliflower. Plant these for yourself and give the goats the outer, tough leaves. Or, if you can, plant extra for your goats.
Plant more turnips than you think you’ll need. Turnips are one of those crops people tend to get sick of quickly. There are only so many ways to use them. Goats love not only the leaves but the turnip themselves. They will never tire of them.
Cole crop leaves are usually prolific and have a variety of minerals that are good for goat health.
4. Sweet Potatoes
The benefit of sweet potatoes is that they are usually prolific growers, and you can share the crop with your goats. You eat the tubers, and the goats get the leaves. You can eat the greens too if you want, though you’ll have to fight the goats for them.
These plants thrive in the summer heat, so they are an excellent leafy green to keep on hand.
Your goats will devour the leaves of sweet potatoes. They are high in Vitamins C and B6, and will provide a little calcium boost, so they are perfect for milking goats.
Be warned that some types of bamboo can be invasive and may even be banned in your area. Goats love it, so if you can grow some and keep it under control, they’re healthy plants for goats.
Here is why bamboo is so good for your goats. It’s high in crude protein and rich in zinc, copper, manganese, copper, and calcium. Bamboo benefits the goat’s immune system and contains lactone, which is excellent for their cardiovascular system.
Willows are excellent plants for goats because you can prune and feed to the goats, and the tree’s regrowth is swift, especially with established trees.
Willow is high in magnesium and zinc and contains a crude protein at a level consistent with lucerne hay.
7. Olive Tree
Olives are extremely palatable to goats, more so than the other plants listed so far, so whatever you do, don’t let them see your olive trees. I keep my goats in paddocks well away from treat plants, especially olive.
Olive leaves provide lots of fiber, which aids in digestion. They are also an excellent antioxidant, and the oleic acid can help decrease inflammation and lowers the risk of heart disease in goats.
Also present are copper, calcium, and sodium, so olive leaves are a nutrient-rich treat.
8. Apple Tree
Whenever you prune your apple trees, think of your goats. They seem to love the foliage better than the apples themselves (though they are also a wonderful treat for goats.)
Be careful of baby goats eating apple foliage as it can cause bloating in their immature digestive system.
Like the fruit, the tree foliage contains healthy levels of vitamins C, A, and K. There are also antioxidant properties in apple tree leaves and bark.
9. Bay Leaves
Bay leaves are suitable plants for goats and provide vitamins and minerals, but this should be a rare treat as too much can be toxic. Prune a small branch off once a week, and your goat will thank you.
Bay is antibacterial and antioxidant and can relieve bloating and gas in goats.
Fennel, like olive leaves, is good to help the goat digest other foods due to its high fiber content. It is high in Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, making both herb fennel and fennel roots excellent plants for goats.
11. Mustard Greens
If you use mustard greens as a cover crop or in your cooking, share a little with your goats. They can eat the whole plant, but once again, moderation is key. Mustard greens should be fed on occasion.
Herbs and Vegetables for Feeding Goats
If you clear your vegetable garden at the end of each growing season and wonder if you can feed the plants to your goats, or you want to grow some specifically to treat them, here is a list for you.
- Collard Greens
- Brussels Sprouts
These are just some of the many plants and trees you can grow for goats, or at least feed them as treats.
Pasture Plants for Goats
Here are the plants that you should have in your goats’ pasture. These provide a nutritious basis for their diet.
Clover is easy to grow and is high in protein. It is also perfect to combine with other grasses as a more balanced feed.
Although goats often look for higher plants like shrubs and trees first to graze on, one of the first ground-level plants they will seek out is plantain. Garden folklore has it that this is because they instinctively know it is a plant that settles their stomach.
Whatever the reason, this is a welcome weed in the goat pasture.
14. Perennial Ryegrass
Ryegrass is nutritious and will provide goats with high levels of protein. It is a resilient pasture crop and can handle the eat-and-return habit of goats.
15. Birds-foot Trefoil
Lotus corniculatus is often overlooked as a pasture legume for goats, but it is well worth considering. It is loaded with anti-parasitic qualities, which is important with goats. They often don’t show signs of sickness until they’re badly infested.
Birds-foot trefoil is often used in hay fields.
Chicory is from the sunflower family, so it’s no wonder it’s a favorite of goats. They love sunflowers. It is perennial, so it returns year after year, no matter how hard your goats graze it.
Chicory contains high levels of protein, potassium, calcium, sodium, zinc, sulfur, and magnesium.
Chicory is easily digestible for goats, which means that they get more of the benefits from it than many other pasture plants.
Other pasture plants to consider are:
- Alaskan Brome (Bromus sitchensis)
- Orchard Grass (Dactylis glomerata)
- Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
- Meadow Brome (Bromus commutatus)
- Timothy (Phleum pratense)
- Festulolium (x Festulolium)
Plants to Avoid Growing or Feeding to Goats
You could be forgiven for thinking that goats eat anything. This is not the case and some plants should be avoided. The list is long, so the best thing to do is identify the plants your goats have access to, and double-check that they are suitable.
Here are some of the common plants often found on homesteads.
- Daffodil (Narcissus spp.) – Can be toxic, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe abdominal pain.
- Larkspur (Delphinium spp.) – Although not fatal, larkspur can make goats very sick.
- Boxwood (Buxus spp.) – Highly poisonous to goats due to its steroidal alkaloid.
- Bluebonnet (Lupinus spp.) – Can be fatal if eaten in large quantities.
- Rhododendron and Azalea (Rhododendron spp.) – Contains a toxin called granantoxin that causes severe gastrointestinal irritation.
One of the most surprising plants considered toxic to goats is the leaves of the Prunus genus. After all, they eat the leaves, twigs, and branches of many fruit trees.
Members of the Prunus genus toxic to goats include:
If you prune these trees at the end of the growing season, keep the branches and leaves away from your goats.
Most goats that have a balanced diet usually avoid toxic plants, but you still need to be careful.