Can Goats Eat Pine Needles? Is it Safe?

Ask anybody who’s kept goats for a long time and they will tell you that, contrary to popular opinion, goats are shockingly picky eaters.

a goat nibbling on some pine needles

I know more than one owner that has told me stories of goats shunning prime, fresh vegetables to go nibble on a stunted, brown shrub. What can you do?

Suffice it to say that goats do eat some things that, to us, seem strange, but actually play an important role in their diet. How about pine needles? Can goats eat pine needles safely?

Yes, pine needles are safe for goats to eat on a limited basis. Goats can digest pine needles and derive decent nutrition from them, but eating too many pine needles can make them sick.

I know it seems strange at first, but when you think about it pine needles are actually something that is right up a goat’s alley.

Even people make use of pine needles sometimes as tea or medicinal remedies. So, it seems, it isn’t as strange as you think.

But, as you probably already guessed, there’s a lot more you need to know before you let your goats chow down on pine needles, and I’ll tell you about it below…

What Benefits Do Pine Needles Have for Goats?

Pine needles have not been exhaustively analyzed for nutritional content, at least as far as I was able to find using common sources.

Accordingly, we don’t know precisely how pine needles benefit goats, but we can make some good inferences from of what we do know.

For starters, pine needles are known to be a good source of vitamins A and C, and goats definitely need both of those in their diet.

Also goats, as ruminants, can digest pine needles and derive calories from them, so don’t be surprised if you see your herd eating the tender young ones right off of the tree.

There’s also some evidence that suggests pine needles help keep a goat’s digestive tract clear.

Clear of both internal parasites, in which case the compounds found in pine needles act as a natural vermifuge, and also as a constipation remedy, promoting regular, healthy bowel movements.

There are historical precedents that show pine needles being used for much the same in various cultures both for human remedies and for livestock, so this makes perfect sense to me.

Watch Goats Eat Pine Needles

Pine Needles Can Cause Problems for Goats

Whatever their benefits, pine needles are definitely not a constant, staple food for goats. For starters, they absolutely aren’t nutritionally complete, and goats cannot subsist on them for any length of time.

Then there are the known harmful compounds in pine needles that can be especially dangerous for pregnant does.

Mainly, these compounds are known to cause miscarriages and other birth defects in pregnant goats, so you must be cautious to keep your mommy goats from getting at any pine needles, although they tend to avoid them.

As always, you cannot count on your animals to act in their own best interests!

Despite this, pine needles are generally safe, and if your goats want to nibble on them during their usual browsing sessions, or if you want to provide them a few fresh cut boughs as a snack or interesting treat, don’t hesitate unless it is a pregnant female.

Are Pine Needles Safe for Goats Raw?

Yes, raw pine needles are completely safe for goats and this is the simplest and best way to serve them to your herd. Goats are instinctively familiar with them, and will readily eat them if they are interested.

Can You Cook Pine Needles to Give Them to Goats?

Yes, you can cook pine needles if you want to serve them to your goats. But I should point out that there’s no real benefit to doing so, as it’s just going to waste time and effort on your part and reduce the already minimal nutrients present in the needles.

But, one worthwhile strategy might be steeping the pine needles to make pine needle tea and then adding that to your goats’ water to fortify with vitamins.

How Often Can Goats Have Pine Needles?

Pine needles are a supplemental or incidental item in a goat’s diet, not a staple as hay is.

If you allow your goats to browse, you can let them eat pine needles when they happen upon them but you should keep an eye out to make sure they aren’t eating pine needles alone as that will lead to problems.

If you want to supplement the usual diet of your goats with pine needles, consider giving them a serving a couple of times a week.

Consider giving them up to three servings a week if you suspect they might be having problems with intestinal parasites and see if you notice an improvement.

Never Serve Pine Needles to Goats if Exposed to Chemicals

It should go without saying, but you never, ever want to feed your goats any pine needles that might have been exposed to herbicides, pesticides, or any other chemicals which can hurt your goats.

I know most folks aren’t worried about these chemicals when it comes to trees as opposed to crops and lawns, but keep in mind that many kinds of pine trees are treated with chemicals to save them from parasitic insects and other invasive plants.

These chemicals might have terrible health consequences for your goats, including many kinds of cancer, so don’t give them any collected pine needles that you aren’t 100% sure about concerning their provenance.

How Should You Serve Pine Needles to your Herd?

You don’t need to do much if you want to give your goats pine needles.

Like I said earlier, they will munch on them if they find them and are in the mood for them while they are out browsing, or if you want to cut fresh branches, particularly those with young, tender needles, they will nibble some off.

If you want to collect fresh pine needles, that is fresh green needles, you can toss them to your goats and they will eat a few off of the ground.

Are Pine Needles Safe for Baby Goats?

Pine needles are safe for baby goats also once they start to eat solid food full-time. However, pine needles don’t have anything near enough nutrition to support the rapid growth of young kids.

As such, you should only want to let them eat pine needles on an incidental basis, or give them a few for variety.

Keep in mind that young goats are even more susceptible to the negative effects of pine needles, so do mind to the quantity and always make sure they have access to more food besides just them.

Warning: Other Tree Needles Can Be Dangerously Toxic

To be perfectly clear, it is worth mentioning that only pine needles are safe for goats; not all trees that produce similar needle-shaped leaves are!

For instance, every part of the yew tree including its distinctive needles is ferociously toxic and can easily kill your goats. Never make the assumption that, just because a tree is bearing needles, it is safe for goats to eat.

If you have any doubts about the positive identification of a given tree, avoid feeding any of its parts to your goats and don’t let your herd eat from it.

Remember: goats are pretty good about avoiding dangerous plants, but they are hardly infallible! It’s up to you to look after them.

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