Goat owners know that their animals will eat just about anything they take a liking to. Some of their usual menu items are positively inedible to our sensibilities, including bark and even whole branches off trees.
Put perhaps the most disturbing to watch is when your goats tuck into a spiny, thorny plant.
Even thinking about it can give you nightmares! And though goats can do this, we really need to ask if they should. Should your goats be allowed to eat thorns?
Yes, goats can eat thorns with no issues most of the time. The tough tissues of their mouth and tongues can handle the prickles just fine, and their digestive system is able to process them without any problems.
Issues are not unheard of, but if you see your goats eating thorns there’s generally no need to panic.
As harrowing as it is to watch, you can let your goats eat roses, blackberry bushes and other spiny plants to their heart’s content most of the time.
But there is still more that you should know on the topic, so keep reading to get the rest of the story.
Goats are Surprisingly Deft Eaters
One of the reasons that goats can eat thorns without too much trouble is because they’re actually very good at eating them.
If you’ve ever seen a goat eating, you might have noticed that they don’t just chomp down and start swallowing.
They’re very methodical in their approach, and will often strip the leaves off first before tackling the tougher stems.
And they eat the stems with thorns and all! Even though they are sharp, goats have a way of chewing and swallowing them without any issues, at least enough to be dealt with by their digestive system without any issues.
The Tissues of a Goat’s Mouth are Tough
Goats are well adapted to deal with eating thorns. For one, the tissues of their mouth are actually quite tough.
The epithelium, which is the tissue that covers the surfaces inside their mouth, is several times thicker than what you would find in a human.
This helps to protect them from getting cut or injured by the thorns, and also makes them less sensitive to pain in general.
In fact, this tough tissue extends all the way down their throat, making it less likely for them to choke on anything they’re eating.
Another thing that helps goats eat thorns without issue is the design of their tongue. If you take a close look at a goat’s tongue, you’ll notice that it’s covered in tiny backward-facing hooks.
These help to grip onto leaves and other vegetation, making it easier for them to strip the leaves off before eating the tougher stems.
And because these hooks are facing backwards, they actually help to push thorns and other sharp objects away from the soft tissues of the tongue, further reducing the chances of injury.
A Goat’s Digestive System Can Handle Thorns
Another reason that goats can eat thorns without any problems is that their digestive system is designed to deal with tough, fibrous foods.
The stomach of a goat is divided into four sections, each with a different function.
The first section, known as the rumen, is where food is initially stored and fermented. This helps to break down tough plant fibers, making them easier to digest.
The second section, known as the reticulum, is where sharp objects like thorns are caught and prevented from causing any damage.
The third section, known as the omasum, further breaks down food before it enters the fourth and final section, known as the abomasum.
This is where digestion finally occurs, and where any remaining thorns will be broken down and passed out in the goat’s feces.
So, as you can see, goats are actually very well equipped to deal with eating thorns. Their tough mouth tissues and digestive system can handle them without any problems, making it perfectly safe for them to eat thorny plants.
What Kinds of Thorny Plants Can Goats Eat?
Now that you know that goats can eat thorns without any problems, you might be wondering what kinds of thorny plants they can eat.
The answer is: most of them! Goats can safely eat roses, blackberry bushes, bougainvillea, firethorn and other spiny plants without any issues.
In fact, these plants are actually a good source of food for them. Roses, for example, are a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron.
Blackberry bushes are also a good source of these nutrients, as well as fiber and antioxidants. The berries themselves are also highly nutritious.
Your goats can generally be trusted to know what is good for them and what isn’t. If you’re ever in doubt, however, you can always consult with a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to get the best advice for your goats.
Accidents May Still Happen!
While it’s generally safe for goats to eat thorns, there are still some risks that you need to be aware of. The biggest one is that goats could potentially puncture their mouth or throat while eating thorny plants.
This is more likely to happen if the thorns are particularly large or if the goat is trying to eat the stem rather than just the leaves.
If a goat does puncture their throat or mouth, it could potentially cause an infection or other serious health problems.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some plants that have thorns also contain toxins that can be harmful to goats.
So, even though goats can eat thorns without any issue (usually), the plant as a whole could still be harmful.
Make sure you do your research on any plants that you’re considering feeding to your goats to make sure they are safe and non-toxic.
Can Baby Goats Eat Thorns?
Baby goats will usually eat thorns when they are ready to handle them. Because kids are young and still developing, the tissues of their mouths are not quite as tough as adults.
Accordingly, when they are old enough to eat solid food all the time they may struggle with thorny or spiny plants.
Their propensity to eat thorns will increase as they mature, and pretty soon they will be chowing down on roses and everything else just like the rest of the herd.
That being said, make sure you keep an eye on any young kids that decide to nibble on thorny plants for the first time!
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.