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Goats, sagebrush, juniper needles(and berries), and pine needles

Pearl Bigelow

Joined: Nov 13, 2011
Posts: 11
Location: northern Arizona, USA, 6,000 feet elev, zone 5b
Hello ,

My apologies in advance for such a long post. If some of the questions can be answered, perhaps they may be helpful for others in similar situations.

Hopefully there will be someone who has personal experience with my questions because there is somewhat conflicting information on the Internet and, as most goat owners know, there has been much more research on cattle and sheep than on goats, which often does not actually apply to goats.

My girls all really like to eat sagebrush, juniper needles(and berries), and pine needles. Some reading that I did in the past indicated that these might be good for worm control and I have not seen any signs of negative effects. The sagebrush and juniper are abundant in our area (northern Arizona) and the pine needles are only a short distance away (by car - too far to walk the girls - so we go foraging for them).

Sagebrush - Recently I came across a statement in a testimonial for an herbal supplement that stated, “My goats were drying up from eating the sage bushes. I tried this and it helped. It didn't do a big increase, but it did help to increase their out-put.” So I did some Internet searching for “sage” and “lactation”. Sure enough, sage is known to reduce lactation. However, the sage in the articles was culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) not sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). So I wonder if the lady that made the statement had the two “sages” mixed up? In which case it might help explain why there was not a “big increase”. Anyway, does anyone have any experience with goats, lactation, and sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)?

Juniper (mostly Juniperus monosperma) needles and berries - There has been ongoing research in our part of the country regarding the use of goats to reduce the number of junipers. Basically, the result seems to be that with sufficient added protein the goats are very effective at eating juniper. However, I then came across research that stated that “Isocupressic acid is believed to be the primary abortifacient compound in juniper. Cows fed juniper needles subsequently aborted after 3-4 days...A study on the anti-implantation activity in female albino rats of a number of herbs found that juniper had 60-70% anti-implantation activity....A review article on the potential value of plants as sources of antifertility agents reported that juniper was an emmenagogue. A herbal toxicology and drug interaction compendium and a herbal medicine compendium reported that juniper is a uterine stimulant.” Ok, so this looks like I could have does unable to settle or pregnant does aborting when they eat juniper (the juniper reduction research seems to have been mostly done with non-pregnant goats or wethers). However, the abortion and infertility research was with regard to cattle (and mice), which does not necessarily apply to goats. Then I found an article on research done specifically to test the effects of juniper on pregnant does. It said, “No abortions occurred as a result of redberry juniper consumption and no differences (P > 0.05) were observed in offspring number, vigor scores, or weight...Producers can use goats as a management tool for slowing juniper encroachment... These results indicate that juniper intake does not inhibit offspring growth and development. Unlike results from Johnson et al. (1976) where abortions occurred in sheep fed juniper (1 lb of plant per day) via stomach pump in the second and third trimesters, no incidences of abortions or teratogenic effects (birth defects) were observed in this study. Goats may metabolize monoterpenes found in juniper better than sheep and are therefore able to avoid toxin-induced abortions.” So the juniper is not a problem for pregnant goats. Good. But what about the anti-fertility effect? The does in the study were already pregnant when fed the juniper so the study does not answer that question. Anybody have experience with goats eating juniper or juniper berries and not being able to settle? (On a positive note, there was a study done to determine the “Impact of Anise, Clove and Juniper Oils as Feed Additives on the Productive Performance of Lactating Goats”. Results from this study “...suggested that feeding these EO (2 g/h/d) to lactating dairy goats had limited effects on milk production and milk composition but feeding 2 mL Juniper oil/h/d changed milk fatty acids profile for healthy effect on the consumers” because “goats fed diet supplemented with Juniper oil produced milk fat have highest value of total and individual Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA) and C18.3N3 (omega 3).” So goats eating juniper could be good for the person drinking the goat milk!)

Pine needles (Pinus ponderosa, Pinus edulis, etc.) - Even people can eat pine needles without toxic effects (they taste kind of acidic, like lemon juice) and they have been used in the past for the treatment of scurvy. Given the opportunity, my girls will strip the needles off of every part of the tree they can reach (and maybe some of the bark). Then I came across an article on the Internet (maybe I need to stop doing all this research )that stated, “Ponderosa pine needles have long been associated with abortion in cattle. Abortions have usually occurred in the third trimester of pregnancy (the last three months).... After aborting, the cattle often have severe uterine infections (metritis) which requires treatment and may prevent the cow from becoming pregnant again in a reasonable period of time. Additionally, some cattle experiencing pine needle abortion become very ill and a few become paralyzed. Occasionally, a calf will be born alive; however, they tend to be small, weak, and susceptible to respiratory disease.” That’s pretty scary! The same article said, “Materials found in the pine tips or new pine growth contain toxins that cause severe kidney damage and paralysis in cattle.” Oh great, my girls really like the tips! But, again, we are talking cattle, not goats. The article went on to say, “Recently, a component of pine needles has been shown to be the probable cause of the abortions. It is a chemical compound called isocupressic acid ...” Ah ha! That is the same component that is considered the “primary abortifacient compound in juniper (see “juniper” above) and the goats handled that without any problem so maybe I don’t need to worry about the pine needles. Any personal experience with pine needles and pregnant does?

I have only have two does (currently non-pregnant and non-lactating) that I want to breed and milk. But I don’t want to risk their being unable to settle, aborting, or not being able to produce milk. So, does anyone have any personal experience with these questions?

Thank you in advance for any help you are able to give.
Alison Thomas

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
I have no experience of the first two with my goats but I am a human breast-feeding counsellor and yes, there is research that indicates thst culinary sage can reduce milk supply at least in humans. However, as you say, that's Salvia not Artemisia. I have pruned Artemisia in the past and offered it to my goats but they walked off disinterested.

On the pine needles bit however, I do have some goat experience. Mine love pine needles of all sorts (any sort of conifer) and have been both pregnant and gone on to feed their kids and us with their milk. We've had no unexplained losses (actually our first ever this year - a stillborn but the kid was really badly presented, almost tied in a knot, and had probably died a couple of days before birth). So our anecdotal evidence would not make any link between the pine needles and 'awful' experiences.
Shawn Harper

Joined: Mar 01, 2012
Posts: 234
Location: Portlandia, Oregon
I hope the sagebrush part proves to be false, but just incase I am following this post.

She changes everything She touches, and everything She touches changes.
Pearl Bigelow

Joined: Nov 13, 2011
Posts: 11
Location: northern Arizona, USA, 6,000 feet elev, zone 5b
Thank you, Alison. It was good to hear about the pine needles.....or any conifer! I remember seeing a documentary a few years ago about a goat dairy and they were feeding discarded Christmas trees to the goats as a treat (of course I don't know what kind of trees they were but I'm pretty sure they were not ponderosa pines ) It's good to know that conifers in general are probably safe. You said you tried Artemisia trimmings. There are a number of plants in that family and it may be that they don't care for some of them. The sagebrush does seem to be a favorite with this bunch. When we go for a walk it is the first thing they head for and they will eat quite a bit of it before moving on to something else. Of course, a lot of that is learned behavior. When I first got them they were not too interested in sagebrush. ~Pearl Bigelow~
subject: Goats, sagebrush, juniper needles(and berries), and pine needles