Updated: Dec 26, 2022
If you’re a goat owner or even someone who’s interested in goats, you’ve probably seen the news stories, Craigslist ads, or Facebook posts from goat owners talking about or asking for Christmas trees for their goats. This leads many people to ask, “Can goats really eat Christmas trees?” They can, but in today’s world we have to be careful about which ones we give them.
Christmas trees are not considered food. This means they’re not subjected to the same rigorous standards as food sources. Christmas trees can be sprayed with everything from fungicides to flame retardants in the quest to make them that perfect holiday staple. Most trees that go to market are around ten years old, give or take a few years depending on species, which gives plenty of time for these sprays to accumulate in the tree.
This doesn’t mean every tree farm is spraying their crops with flame retardant or insecticides, but do you know if they are? It’s not a question most of us think to ask when purchasing a tree, and sometimes, the people we buy them from wouldn’t even know as they weren’t the ones who grew them. You may have bought your tree from an organic farm that uses no chemicals. Did the person you met through Facebook?
“Clean” trees are generally safe for your goats. Like most things though, you’ll want to introduce this new food source in moderation. If your goat hasn’t had conifer forage before, giving them an entire Christmas tree to eat may cause digestive problems. Another issue can be dry needles as they’re harder to digest than green needles. Dry needles don’t have to be brown either. Many times when a tree is thrown out, it is weeks old. The needles look green, but we’ve all seen what happens when you shake a tree like that. Some tree farms even use chemical color enhancers.
Peter and Kaley, our goats at Grey Dog Maple Farm, enjoy fresh conifer forage from our property as a treat. Sometimes we’ll take them for a walk and they’ll eat directly from the tree. Other times we’ll cut branches and toss them into their pen. Our goats have been introduced to conifer forage and would be okay having an entire tree in their pen. There’s even some evidence to suggest that tannins in conifers can help with natural deworming. The fresh green needles are also full of vitamin C.
Giving your goats Christmas trees can be okay, as long as the trees you’re giving them are okay. If you’re taking donated trees for your goats, ask where they came from. Giving your animals something that’s possibly coated in chemicals could lead to serious vet bills or worse, the loss of an animal. Goats will eat a lot of things. That doesn’t mean we should always let them. As long as you're careful though, you can let your goats enjoy a treat of clean natural Christmas tree forage.