Tending to goats can be stressful, especially when they want to eat everything. Knowing what’s in your field and whether it’s toxic to goats or not is extremely important.
Can goats eat cherry trees? The only parts of a cherry tree that are toxic to goats are the fruit pits and leaves, and only if they’re wilted. Fresh leaves, dried leaves, and bark are all fine for goats to eat. If a tree has fallen or sustained damage and has wilting leaves, keep these away from your goats, as they are toxic to them.
How Safe are Cherry Trees for Goats?
There are many things to consider when tending to both goats and cherry trees, read on to learn more.
How to Identify a Cherry Tree
Cherry trees can be identified by their brownish gray bark and oval leaves with pointed tips. A cherry tree’s bark has horizontal cuts, rather than vertical like on most deciduous trees. In the spring, cherry trees blossom with stunning displays of pink or white flowers.
Can Goats Eat Cherry Tree Fruit & Pits?
Goats can eat the fruits and to an extent, the pits, but the cyanide that exists in wilted leaves is also present in the pits. Many goat owners have found that their goats spit out the pits or avoid them completely, but be aware that your goats should not be eating the pits.
Can Goats Eat Cherry Tree Leaves?
Goats can eat both fresh and dried cherry tree leaves. Leaves that have wilted are toxic to goats and should be removed as soon as possible.
When Cherry Tree Leaves are Dangerous to Ingest
If a tree has sustained damage, either during a storm or due to some other trauma, the leaves of any cracked branches will begin to wilt. Those wilted leaves create a high concentration of cyanide that can be lethal to goats.
If leaves have fallen from the tree naturally during autumn, they are typically fine for goats to eat since they’re fully dry by the time they hit the ground.
Are Fallen/Dried Wilted Leaves Less Toxic Than Living Leaves?
Cherry tree leaves are only toxic when the plant is under stress and the leaves have wilted. As the leaves transition from being alive to dry, they build up cyanide. As they dry, the cyanide is removed from the leaves and they become safe to eat again.
The most dangerous time for goats to eat cherry tree leaves is when they’re attached to a broken branch and wilted since the leaves draw cyanide from the broken branch.
Lethal Consumption of Wilted Cherry Tree Leaves for Goats
Less than a pound of wilted cherry tree leaves is lethal to a goat. 0.46 to 1.82 grams of pant material per pound of body weight is the lethal dose for ruminant animals (source). That means, depending on the weight of your goat, as little as one oz of wilted cherry leaves could be toxic to your goat.
Signs of Cherry Tree Poisoning in Goats
Cherry tree poisoning can occur from a few minutes to a few hours after the goat has eaten the wilted leaves. Symptoms include:
- Frothing at the mouth
- Rapid, difficult breathing
- Muscle tremors
- Staggering and collapse
Unfortunately, oftentimes animals are found dead because toxicity sets in quickly and the animal succumbs shortly after.
What to Do if Toxicity Symptoms Occur
If you do notice toxicity symptoms in your goats, immediately take the following actions (source):
- Call your veterinarian
- Do not handle the animal more than necessary, this could cause the animal stress which could worsen the effects of the cyanide poisoning
- Your veterinarian will administer a sodium nitrate antidote
- The antidote must be administered within minutes of symptom onset to be effective
- If the animal is still alive 2-3 hours after exposure to the cyanide, chances of survival are high, but full recovery is rare.
How to Prevent Goats from Eating Toxic Tree Leaves
If you do have a tree in your pasture that’s toxic to goats, the safest solution is to remove the tree entirely. If that’s not an option, there are a few other ways to manage potential exposure.
Observe your trees regularly, be on the lookout for any wilted branches and prune them. After any high winds or thunderstorms, check your trees to make sure there aren’t any broken branches.
If removing the tree isn’t an option and you can’t regularly check it, then fencing it off would be the last recommended solution. Goats have a way of getting where they don’t belong, and leaves have a way of blowing past fences.
Which Trees to Plant (And Which to Avoid) for Goats
Trees to plant for goats:
- American sweetgum
- Bay (leaves)
- Brazilian pepper tree
- Mountain ash
- Oaks (bark, twigs, leaves, acorns) in small quantities
- Southern bayberry
- Staghorn sumac
- Tree of heaven
- Wax myrtle
Trees to avoid for goats:
- All Prunus trees
- Alder buckthorn
- Arborvitae (thuja tree)
- Black locust
- Buckeye (horse chestnut)
- Chinaberry tree (Persian lilac, white cedar, Texas umbrella tree)
- Golden chain tree (Laburnum)
- Holly (trees or bushes)
- Honey mesquite
- Kentucky coffee tree
- Lasiandra (glory bush)
- Laurel (all types)
- Mountain cedar (eastern red cedar)
- Mountain laurel
- Spruce (in quantity)
- Ponderosa pine (in large quantity)
- Red maples
- Red pine (in large quantity)
- Rhododendron (very deadly)
- Savin juniper (Juniperus sabina)
- Sugar gums and many eucalyptus
- Yew (all species, including African and Japanese)
Can Pygmy Goats Eat Fruit Trees?
Pygmy goats are susceptible to the same issues as any other goat regarding cyanide poisoning from fruit trees. Since pygmy goats are smaller than other goat breeds, a much smaller quantity of wilted leaves or fruit pits are toxic to them. Make sure to be extremely observant of what your pygmy goats are eating.
Is Cherry Tree Bark Toxic to Humans?
The only part of a cherry tree that’s safe for human consumption is the ripe fruit. Bark, branches, pits, and flowers all contain cyanogenic glycosides that are toxic to humans.
Caring for goats is an extremely rewarding hobby. One of the main concerns and caretaker should have is making sure that your goats are safe. Avoiding the wilted leaves on cherry trees is one of the biggest steps that you can take to ensure the safety and longevity of your herd.