Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster

Good & Bad Plants for Goats in the Sonoran & Chihuahuan Deserts and Beyond

Fencing protects the base of rainwater-irrigated vegetation from penned browsing goats, so the plants can provide a protective canopy of shade, while lower portions are sustainably browsed and pruned by the animals.
Reproduced with permission from “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2, 2nd Edition”

Compiled by Brad Lancaster from various sources listed below

Caution: Plants in red appear on both GOOD and BAD/POISONOUS lists.
BAD/POISONOUS plants are listed lower down, after the lists of GOOD ones.

Contact your local agriculture cooperative extension office for more information and help with plant identification.

This list is a work in progress. I am just beginning my goat learning, having only just recently acquired a couple of Nigerian dwarf goats. So for the most part, I have not yet been able to test and verify—from my own experience—whether the plants listed below are good or bad for goats. But I have strong confidence in those I interviewed and their many years of experience. And keep in mind that plants can vary in subspecies, variety, and or chemical make up based on what bioregion, soils, or climate they grow in.

Note: that plants referenced from interviews emphasize plants that grow in the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico (Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and bordering grasslands)

Please note, you’ll see that a number of plants appear on both the GOOD and BAD lists. For example, I’ve found Nigerian dwarf goats I’ve walked in public parks in Tucson love spurge, and will eat it instead of the grass. But the book “City Goats” reports that it is toxic to goats. While the Oregon State University newsroom article, “Dogs love trucks, goats love leafy spurge” by Randy Dovel, says spurge is fine for goats.

So, when in doubt, avoid the plant in question, or experiment with cautious moderation.
And always introduce new foods to your goats in small amounts, then slowly increase if all is good, so their rumens can adapt.

Plants browsed in the wild vs. plants available in confinement:
Confined goat spaces such as pens or fenced pasture must be monitored and managed to ensure they are healthy and safe, and do not contain potentially toxic plants that could be overeaten.
For example, a goat browsing in the wild could likely take a medicinal bite of datura and move on with no problem, but I’d never feed it to goats in their pen where they could likely eat too much if their non-toxic feed options run low.

Check back periodically, as I plant to update this list as I learn more.

GOOD plants for goats (in moderation)

Notes from 7-30-20 phone conversation with Barbara Clark, long-time goat keeper in Cascabel, Arizona
Caution: Plants in red appear on both GOOD and BAD/POISONOUS lists.

Goats like:
Bermuda grass
Johnson grass
• Grasses – all

They need the woody stuff and they like:
Cat claw acacia
• Cottonwood
Datura (maybe just in medicinal amounts)
• Desert willow
Mexican Elderberry
• Foresteria neomexicana? Desert Olive
• Little leaf sumac
• Mesquite – rake up pods dry (before rains arrive – to avoid aflatoxins), dry out if needed, and store them dry in garbage can to last longer into the season.
• Saltbush
• Tamarisk
• Willow
• Wolfberry


Good native plants Brad Lancaster has found his goats like to eat
For info on how we plant and prune native community food forests see www.DunbarSpringNeighborhoodForesters.org
• Acacia leaves
• Barrel cactus fruit
Cat claw acacia leaves and seeds
• Condalia
• Desert broom
• Desert ironwood tree leaves; flowers (fresh or dried); and seeds
• Fairy duster
• Jojoba leaves and nuts
• Manzanita
• Mesquite pods, leaves, and flowers
• Mormon tea
• Palo verde flowers (fresh or dried)
• Quail bush
• Triangle-leaf bursage
White thorn acacia leaves

Non-native invasive plants Brad Lancaster has found his goats like to eat
Due to their invasive nature, I would not plant these following plants in the Sonoran Desert, but if they are already there, they make good browse for the goats, and the goats can help check the spread of these non-natives.
• African sumac (Rhus lancea)
• Bermuda grass
• River tamarind (Leucaena leucocephala)
• Southwest sweet acacia
• Tamarisk
• Tumbleweed

Good domesticated plants & kitchen scraps Brad Lancaster has found his goats like to eat
• Pomegranate (fruit and peel/skin)
• Nopal cactus pads (I cut them up into 1/2-inch to 1-inch cubes)
• Orange peels (I make sure I only give them organic, non-waxed peels – most easily attained from my own tree and other neighborhood or local growers) and orange tree leaves
• Banana peels (I make sure I only give them peels from organically-grown bananas, since the pesticides applied to conventional bananas can be toxic). Cut up in 1 – 2 inch pieces as they are easier for them to eat that way.

Goats and chickens eating desert ironwood trees leaves.
When we prune the trees in the public right-of-way to maintain public pathway access, we bring the prunings to the goats in their pen.


Goats doing neighborhood weed control by browsing on bermuda grass.

From the book “Goatwalking” by Jim Corbett, Penguin Books, 1991:

Good goat plants.
Caution: Plants in red appear on both GOOD and BAD/POISONOUS lists.
• Wild mustard
• Patata
Cat claw acacia
• Desert ironwood
• Cholla fruit



From the book, “Raising Dairy Goats, 5th Edition” by Jerry Belanger and Sara Thomson Bredesan, Storey Press, 2018:

Good weeds for goats:

Caution: Plants in red appear on both GOOD and BAD/POISONOUS lists.

  • chicory
  • daisy
  • dandelion
  • multiflora rose
  • nettle
  • plantain
  • thistle
  • yarrow




From the book “City Goats”:

Good goat plants.
Caution: Plants in red appear on both GOOD and BAD/POISONOUS lists.

  • blackberries
  • fresh grass (all varieties)
  • clover
  • dandelions
  • kudzu
  • apple leaves
  • maple leaves
  • roses (hips, leaves, and flowers)
  • Fresh vegetables, especially carrots (but NOT potato tops or tomato plants)


More GOOD and BAD plants for goats can be found at:

Goats pruning plants (jojoba and quail bush) growing into public footpath to maintain required minimum 5-foot wide cleared pathway

BAD / POISONOUS plants for goats

Compiled by Brad Lancaster from listed sources below

Note: Plants in red appear on both GOOD and BAD/POISONOUS lists

6-29-20 notes from Anastasia Rabin, goat keeper in Elfrida, AZ:

Bad/poisonous garden plants:

  • all alliums – garlic, onions
  • avocados
  • beet leaves
  • rhubarb
  • horseradish
  • tomato/potato – vines and leaves
  • elderberry
  • peach, apricots, plum, cherry – especially the leaves
  • poinsetta

Bad/poisonous landscape/wild plants:

  • Astragalus
  • Beargrass
  • Broom snakeweed
  • Burroweed
  • Cat claw acacia – after frost
  • Chinaberry
  • Cocklebur
  • Datura
  • Delphinium/Larkspur
  • Goatheads
  • Horse nettle
  • Ivy
  • Johnson Grass (after frost)
  • Lantana
  • Lupine
  • Milkweed
  • Morning Glory
  • Nightshades
  • Oleander
  • Paperflower
  • Privet
  • Sweet pea
  • Tree tobacco
  • White thorn acacia – after frost



From the book “Raising Diary Goats, 5th Edition” by Jerry Belanger and Sara Thomson Bredesan, Storey Press, 2018:

Bad weeds for goats:
Note: Plants in red appear on both GOOD and BAD/POISONOUS lists
• bracken fern
• dock
• hemlock
• locoweed
• milkweed
• mountain laurel
oak leaf
• rhubarb
• sorrel
• wilted wild cherry

Nitrate poisoning is possible from some “good” plants if they undergo chemical changes due to weather.
As stated in “Raising Dairy Goats”, “Sudan grass, johnson grass, pigweed (amaranth), lamb’s quarters, alfalfa, corn, and oats can accumulate toxic amounts of nitrates if they undergo rapid growth after a dry spell.”



From the book “City Goats” by Jennie P. Grant, Skipstone, 2012:

Bad/poisonous plants for goats:
Note: Plants in red appear on both GOOD and BAD/POISONOUS lists

• Azalea
• Buttercup
• Bracken fern
• Cherry tree
• Common milkweed
• Daphne
• Elderberry
• Foxglove
• Hemlock
• Lantana
• Laurel
• Lily of the valley
• Locoweed
• Lupine
Oak tree
• Plum tree
Poison Ivy
• Pokeweed
• Poppy
• Potato
• Rhodeodendron
• Rhubarb
• St. John’s Wort


Click here for a list of Sonoran Desert plants for chickens

Hanging out with Lyric


For great info on
• how to irrigate these plants with free, on-site waters;
• how to effectively place these plants to shade/cool goats, other livestock, homes, and gardens in summer,
• how to place these plants to warm goats, homes, and gardens in winter
• and more…

See the new, full-color, revised editions of Brad’s award-winning books

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, 3rd Edition


Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2, 2nd Edition.


Lyric and Luke – our Nigerian dwarf goats


Reading with the goats.
Photo credit: Brad Lancaster

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