Can Goats Eat Poison Ivy? (Why It Doesn’t Cause a Rash)

Goats can eat poison ivy in as large a quantity as they like. In fact it’s a very attractive food for them; bright, thick and leafy. They’ll eat it whether its a climbing vine growing on a tree or a short shrub emerging from the soil. And can often clear large swathes of it in a matter of days.

What Happens if a Goat Eats Poison Ivy?

Unlike humans who suffer dermatitis when they come into contact with the weed, goats remain unaffected. Urushiol, the compound contained in the sap of the poison ivy, is what provokes a rash. But goats won’t suffer any side effects whether digesting it or coming into contact with it on their bodies.

Scientists don’t really understand why goats are immune to urushiol and humans aren’t. But there are theories that it might have something to do with how goats evolved in arid areas where food sources like toxin-producing plants were one of the few options.

This line of reasoning would also explain why goats can tolerate poison ivy better than other livestock; specifically sheep and cows (who evolved in more temperate climates feasting on a more diverse range of plant matter).

Goats are so well suited to eating the weed that humans even employ them to clear it from unwanted areas. You could even rent goats in certain states via Amazon back in 2015 and use them to do exactly this. Although the service is now discontinued.

Will Drinking Goats Milk Make a Human Immune to Poison Ivy?

Humans will not get sick if they drink the milk of goats that have consumed poison ivy. The toxin does not pass from animal to human. But neither will they become immune to the weed’s poisonous effects either.

Despite what the old housewives’ tales say.

The same goes for consuming cheese, yogurt or any other dairy produced by goats too. As well as their meat. So don’t have any worries there.

In fact it’s probably much safer to use goats when considering of clearing an area of land from poison ivy. Especially as any fertiliser alternative you might use could potentially pollute the soil and anything that grows from it.

What Other Poisonous Plants Can Goats Eat?

Goats can tolerate small amounts of other plants that are known to be highly toxic to humans. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Poison Hemlock – An extremely poisonous plant when consumed by humans, goats can handle up to 3 ounces of this toxin without experiencing effects. Generally though it’s recommended to keep goats – as well as other animals – away from the plant as it is known to cause birth defects.

Virginia Creeper – The flowers and berries of this creeping plant, due to their oxalic acid content, are well known to cause liver damage in humans. Goats likewise will experience poisoning consuming this plant. So it’s best to keep them away.

Sometimes given their similarity Virginia creeper can be difficult to tell apart from poison ivy. A good way to spot the difference however is by looking at both plant’s leaflets. Poison ivy has fewer (three) while Virginia creeper has five.

Poison Parsnip – Normally goats will have few issues consuming parsnip prepared for humans. Poison raw parsnip however, unless they’re in a starvation state, will be avoided by goats given its toxicity. It’s also known to cause mouth lesions to them also.

Best be on the safe side and avoid any and all parsnips.

What Plants Will Goats Not Eat?

Other plants poisonous to goats but safe for human consumption include some from the brassica family of the vegetable world. Onions, in particular, are known to be problematic for them. But their skins, on the other hand, are generally considered quite safe.

Just like Virginia creeper, goats should also avoid any other plants high in oxalate like kale. Holly bushes, honeysuckle and nightshades are also not considered safe either.

Goats are generally fine with most vegetables however, especially broccoli, lettuce, spinach and asparagus.


Hopefully this article has helped show how resilient goats can be. Poison ivy, although it can cause irritating rashes in humans, is perfectly fine for goats. Although you may want to avoid touching or petting them after they’ve been feasting on the plant. Lest the sap make contact with your skin.

Image credit; Kristijan Arsov at Unsplash

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