If you don’t own goats, you probably heard that they will eat anything, literally anything. From old boots to tin cans and even antennas right off your car. If it can fit in their mouth and they can chew it, they’ll eat it.
It’s comedy gold, that’s for sure, but is it true? Can goats really eat anything at all?
Goats can eat just about anything, but this doesn’t mean they should. Goats are actually very sensitive eaters with strict nutritional requirements and must be watched to make sure they don’t ingest anything which could make them sick (or worse).
Turns out this is one of those legends with a grain of truth to it. Goats, despite having a very strict herbivorous diet of plant matter only, are known for eating things that they shouldn’t or even eating things that are frankly inedible.
This can be just another problem that goatherds have to deal with, and curving their adventurous eating tendencies can be a full-time job if you don’t know a few tricks.
I’ll tell you everything you need to know down below, and hopefully you can keep your goats from eating something that they, and you, will regret!
Goats May Try to Eat Just About Anything
Believe it or not, goats can and will try to eat things that are not only bad for them, but frankly inedible.
I am talking about things like rocks, dirt, pottery, leather, and even metals! This tendency is known as pica, and it is surprisingly common in goats.
But despite being common, it is usually a cause for intervention and might signal an emergency.
This is shocking behavior to see in person, for sure, but it almost always has a root cause. Often it is triggered by a goat’s desperate need for nutrients, usually minerals.
A goat’s body will tell them to eat something that might help, even if it ultimately does not.
This might be because of a lack of nutrients in a goat’s usually diet, or the loss of nutrients due to parasites, illness, or other factors.
Another reason goats might be exhibiting pica is from simple boredom and stress. Sure, goats don’t seem that smart, so how could they get bored of their food? Turns out that they can, and will!
If you notice bad behavior like head butting accompanying eating dirt or rocks, your goat might just need some new food or interesting snacks to help snap them out of it.
But They Cannot Digest Everything
So, goats can eat just about anything. But this doesn’t mean they can digest it or even survive eating it.
Goats are strict herbivores, meaning that their bodies aren’t evolved to digest meat or anything else of an animal origin (save milk when they are young), and they definitely cannot digest something that is patently indigestible like rocks, metal, and so forth.
These inedible items will cause severe problems, including blockages in the digestive tract and even internal lacerations.
Any can be immediately life-threatening, and assuming they survive or you can stage a timely medical intervention, they will likely suffer from long-term injury or disability.
So, no matter how daring your goat is and no matter what it can manage to swallow, you should never play it off, or fail to take it seriously. Stay vigilant, and make sure your animals don’t eat anything harmful!
Lots of Plant Matter Can Still Be Harmful to Goats
All of the above is scary enough, but did you know there are plenty of plants and produce that are still harmful or deadly to goats, and even some things that they CAN eat which could kill them if they eat too much?
It’s true: goats are ruminants, and that means they have a shockingly delicate and finely tuned digestive system.
Some of the most common plants and produce that are absolutely toxic to goats include:
- certain types of mushrooms
- rhubarb leaves
- even tomatoes plants (the greenery)
All of these should be avoided.
Things that are healthy for goats in moderation, like alfalfa, can cause deadly complications if their diet is switched to it suddenly, or if they are allowed to overindulge – and they will, they like the stuff!
Bottom line is that you cannot trust goats to NOT eat things that could hurt or kill them, especially when they are stressed. Hey, no one said keeping goats was easy!
If Your Goats are Eating Too Adventurously, Take Stock
If you notice your goats starting to eat, shall we say, adventurously, then you need to assess right away:
- Is their usual diet truly complete for their needs?
- Are multiple goats exhibiting pica or just one or two?
- Have you performed parasite screenings?
- Are they stressed from injury, crowding, boredom?
- Have you implemented healthy safe snacks in their diet?
- Have you considered slowly switching them to a new feed or other food options?
Start acting like a detective, and you’ll probably uncover the source of the issue. Then, you can address it…
Try These Healthy Snack Options for Your Goats
If there is no obvious sign of issues with your goats, they are probably just craving some tasty and interesting new food! Healthy snacking might be the cure.
Below are a few healthy, safe snacks for goats that you can feed to them in moderation. Remember: too much of anything, even good things, can be bad for goats!
Here are some veggie and fruit snacks that goats love:
- Carrots: A sweet and crunchy treat with plenty of vitamins. Chop them small so they don’t choke.
- Apples and Pears: Give your goat a sweet, crisp snack full of essential nutrients. Again, smaller slices are best.
- Celery or Cucumbers: A crunchy and low-calorie option packed with nutrients like vitamin C that will help goats stay hydrated.
- Sweet potatoes: An excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.