It has been said that "goats will eat anything" and there are times when this statement could almost be true. I receive on an average, two to three emails a week asking what type of plants can be planted that goats will not eat. Suddenly the statement that goats will eat anything becomes pretty difficult to dispute.
While goats have mistakenly been marked for this "eat anything" label, it is actually their relative the cow that fits the saying quite nicely. Veteran cattle ranchers as well as packing house processors know, cattle have been found with all sorts of hardware in their digestive tract, and that is why magnets are used on cattle. The same isn't true for goats though I'm sure those readers who have seen a goat or two playing with a tin can are sure that the goat is eating that tin can!
Goats are curious animals when it comes to food. For the most part, they will "sample" a variety of browse in their search for food either by tasting or smelling the plant. It can also be presumed that the "visual" appearance of a plant or flower can either attract or deter a goat. And it is during this sampling that they will make a determination (seasoned goat keepers often refer to this as "memory triggers") of what plant source they can and will ingest, and what they will not ingest. But even though these memory triggers may direct their browsing habits, there are other factors that determine whether or not your prize flowers become a goats lunch or dinner.
A goat that is being fed a proper, well balanced diet, complete with all the vitamins and minerals necessary to meet their daily nutritional requirements is going to be less likely to eat plants that he or she should not, including any one of the variety of poisonous plants. On the other hand, the goat that is receiving inadequate nutrition is going to ignore any formed memory triggers and eat just for the sake of being hungry. So there exists a very crucial balance that MUST be met before trusting a goat in any gardening or landscaping projects. And even so, there are no guarantees.
The proof is simple. Many islands scattered throughout the world have undergone goat management/eradication plans simply because the goats have either nearly or entirely destroyed all vegetation upon these islands. And in some cases, plants the goats have destroyed are listed in the poisonous plants list. Albeit, the majority of these island dwelling goats are wild, placed in the days of yesteryear when Spanish mariners left them behind, hoping to return and use them for a source of milk and meat.
Still, one would have to think that there are surely some plants that goats will show no interest in. Actually there are a few. Up to this point in time, I have found four plants that goats will apparently bypass (but perhaps not before taking a small nibble or sniff): None of these plants are ideally a landscapers dream. And while I am sure there are other plants that remain safe from the goat cud, I have found very few.