Poison ivy is the last thing you want to find growing in your yard or pasture. This common weed causes a nasty rash when you touch any part of it. The toxic substance in the plant makes it incredibly difficult to clear away safely. But if you keep goats, you may be wondering if they can help- by eating poison ivy. Because goats can eat anything, right?
While goats can’t really eat everything, in this case, the instinct is correct. Goats can eat poison ivy. It is perfectly safe. However, while your goats can safely eat poison ivy, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a risk to you if they do.
Keep reading to learn more about goats and the risks from them eating poison ivy.
What is Poison Ivy and How to Recognize It
Poison Ivy is a common weed that grows throughout the US. If you spend much time outside, then you are probably familiar with poison ivy and why you want to avoid it. But in case you’re not, let’s take a closer look at this nasty plant.
Now when we say closer look, we aren’t suggesting you get too close to poison ivy. You always want to keep your distance from poison ivy because it contains a toxic substance called urushiol. This oil is found not only in poison ivy but also in poison oak and poison sumac and gives you a very nasty rash if you touch it. Unfortunately, it is found in all parts of the plant– leaves, stems, flowers, fruit, and roots. So you don’t ever want to touch poison ivy without gloves.
Because it is such a nasty plant, it is one you want to learn to identify. There are two species of poison ivy in the US, so depending on which poison ivy you find, it can either be a shrub (western poison ivy) or a climbing vine (eastern poison ivy). But regardless of whether it’s a shrub or a vine, there are some key identifying features to look for.
Poison ivy features a compound leaf with three leaflets giving rise to the rhyme “leaves of three, leave them be.” The center leaflet has a much longer stalk than those on the sides. And the leaflets alternate on the stem. While they always grow in groups of three, leaves can vary in other ways. They may be smooth or jagged, shiny or dull, and sometimes even can appear reddish.
Will Poison Ivy Make My Goat Sick?
If you have ever had poison ivy, you know how terrible the rash is. Which probably has you wondering if eating poison ivy will make your goat sick. And the answer is a resounding no. Goats will not get sick from eating poison ivy. Despite what you may think, goats can eat as much poison ivy as they want and still be okay.
Beyond that, goats actually enjoy eating poison ivy and will happily munch on it. Now goats shouldn’t exclusively eat poison ivy. You want to make sure they have variety in their forage to encourage proper nutrition. However, if you have been considering goats for clearing brush but have been worried about the presence of poison ivy, worry no more. Let your goats go wild.
Can I Drink Milk from a Goat That Ate Poison Ivy?
If your goat has been eating poison ivy (or you plan to let your goat eat poison ivy), you may wonder if her milk will be safe to drink. Luckily, the answer is yes. You can safely drink milk from a goat that has eaten poison ivy.
A study conducted at the University of California fed two test groups of lactating goats poison oak to find out if urushiol transferred passed on into their milk. In one group, the researchers fed the goats a diet of poison oak combined with other fodder. In the second group, the researchers fed the goats exclusively poison oak.
There is no distinction between urushiol in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. It all causes the same response.
When researchers finished the study and the goats were tested, neither group showed any urushiol at all in their milk (1). Since the same compound found in both poison oak and poison ivy is the same, researchers concluded that the milk from a goat eating poison ivy is perfectly safe.
Scientists are still determining exactly how goats manage to process the poisonous compounds found in poison oak and poison ivy. I like to consider it one of the mysteries of nature and part of why I love goats so much.
Can My Goat Give Me Poison Ivy?
We now know your goats can eat poison ivy without being sick, and the milk they produce is safe to drink. You may think that means that your goats can safely eat poison ivy with no risks to you. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
If your goats eat poison ivy and rub on the plant at all, urushiol can transfer to their fur. If you then touch your goats’ fur, you can be exposed to that insidious oil. Then what do you think will happen? That’s right– you’ll get that nasty itchy poison ivy rash (2).
“Urushiol can transfer from the plant to something that a person then touches. For example, urushiol is oftentimes transferred from pets: Your dog walks through poison ivy, gets urushiol on its fur, you pet the dog, you get poison ivy.”
So you want to be very careful touching or milking your goats if you have been feeding them poison ivy. Washing yourself (or your goats) with soap and water can help remove urushiol and prevent a rash.
We can all agree that poison ivy isn’t something we want growing anywhere near where we live. Yet often times it seems like there is no good way to remove it. But that’s where your goats come in.
Sometimes it seems goats have a nearly miraculous ability to clear brush and eat unwanted scrub. And poison ivy is no exception. Goats can happily eat poison ivy and its cousins, poison oak and sumac, without getting sick or suffering any ill effects. Heck, you can even still drink the milk from goats eating these noxious weeds.
The only thing you want to watch out for is touching your goat’s fur after it has been out clearing your weeds. The urushiol oil may have transferred to its fur if your goat has touched the poison ivy plant during its feast. From there, the oils can penetrate your skin and still give you a rash. So you may want to look into bathing your goats if you plan to have them hanging out in your poison ivy patch for a while.
- Initial research indicates dairy goats used to clear poison oak do not transfer toxicant to milk. Retrieved from: https://calag.ucanr.edu/Archive/?article=ca.v046n03p4.
- Everything You Need to Know About Poison Ivy. Retrieved from: https://www.dmu.edu/blog/2019/08/everything-you-need-to-know-about-poison-ivy/
Rachael and her husband arrived on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2011. There they founded El Jardin de la Vida, a tropical micro food forest, focusing on Sustainable Living Education. She teaches others to build with natural materials, live off-grid, and appreciate slow food.