January 5, 2022

Bracken Poisoning in Goats

Bracken fern. Pretty, but deadly.

We don't have many bracken ferns growing in our woods, so I've always welcomed them for the beauty and diversity they provide. I've read they are poisonous to goats, but the goats have completely ignored them for years. So, I never worried about them until this little gal. . .

. . . decided they were munch-worthy. I chased her off a couple of times, and initially, she seemed okay, so I thought she didn't eat much. 

The next morning, she was in extreme stress, crying pitifully and vomiting, which was all very alarming. I've dealt with azalea poisoning in the past, so I had recipes at hand along with some of their ingredients. I didn't have everything, but immediate action was required, so I used what I had.

  • 1 pint distilled water (can use filtered)
  • 6 teabags of black tea (neutralizes the toxins)
  • 2 tbsp chopped, fresh (or 1 tbsp powdered) ginger (soothes nausea)

Simmer for 10 minutes. Cool and then add:

  • 1 teaspoon activated charcoal (neutralizes the toxins)
  • 1 tablespoon milk of magnesia (regulates peristalsis, i.e. keeps the gut working)
  • 1/8 teaspoon powdered rennet (neutralizes the toxins & helps digestion)
The dose for her age and weight was 10 ml by mouth (I used a dosing syringe). The original recipes are here.

Usually, one dose is enough, but she was still in distress an hour later so I gave her a second dose. I also started her on vitamin B complex injections, because any time a goat's digestive system (rumen) is off, they run the risk of developing thiamine deficiency, aka goat polio. I've dealt with that before too, and it's another scary condition to face.

She finally pulled through, but I have to admit I wasn't sure she would. The next day found me hunting down and digging out bracken ferns. I don't ever want to go through that again!

Bracken Poisoning in Goats © January 2022 

27 comments:

tpals said...

Oh, the poor girl. I hope she has a full recovery.

Leigh said...

Tpals, thankfully, she has! She's as good as new now, full of energy and with good appetite. It's a huge relief to see her recovered.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Wow. I had no idea ferns were so deadly to goats. We have quite a few at The Ranch (ferns, not goats). Glad she is doing better.

Leigh said...

TB, thanks. I don't know if it's true of all ferns, but the brackens, at least, are definitely poisonous.

Ed said...

I am amazed at the research you put into your medicine and knowing exactly how each ingredient works.

Boud said...

Bracken is beautiful and poisonous. I'm glad you had the knowledge and materials to attend her yourself. I'm guessing time is of the essence in this sort of situation.

Leigh said...

Ed, that comes mostly out of necessity, as there are no vets close by that know much about goats. Then, the nearest livestock vet in the area doesn't answer emergency calls on weekends - which is always when problems seem to occur! For myself, having a nursing background helps, I think.

Boud, with poisoning, time is indeed of the essence. I have a few good books that discuss these things, which I've read and gathered medicines and things for an emergency medicine chest. I haven't memorized the information, but when faced with a problem, something always seems to jog my memory so I know where to look. I have a couple of excellent online sources bookmarked as well. And unfortunately, I've also learned a lot from experience.

Kat said...

I'm so sorry about your goat. It's amazing what we goat owners have to learn to keep them alive!
The photo you posted isn't a bracken fern, however. Do you also have bracken, or is this another poisonous variety of fern? It's worth a call/email to your local extension agent to find out for sure.

Retired Knitter said...

Aww. That beautiful little lady goat! I am so glad you were able to save her.

chipmunk said...

Wow, glad you caught her in the act and figured out an effective treatment.

Goatldi said...

Well Leigh you rock it. What an experience wild ride. So glad it turned out for the better and you persevered. I think you earned your goal lady badge for the day probably for the year lol.

Leigh said...

Kat, if it isn't bracken, I don't know what it is. It looks like the kind of ferns sold in pots, which I believe are Boston ferns(?). She's the only one I've seen eating it and it's what she ate before getting so sick. There's no other plants in our woods that I've identified as poisonous, so for now, I'm definitely treating it as such.

RT, me too!

Chipmunk, I'm very thankful it worked! I wasn't sure for awhile.

Goatldi, some wild rides I'd rather not! lol.

amyb said...

I am going to keep this recipe handy. We lost two weathers (within a couple months of each other) this past year. Both young and healthy. Actually two that never had issues with parasites. Still don't know what caused their deaths. We had a necropsy performed on the second. That didn't show cause either. Just that his organs were on inflamed. No parasites or any other obvious issue. They suggested poison of some kind. Had the extension out to look over our property. They found nothing to be an issue. So still a mystery. But, if it happens again. I will try this remedy.

Nancy @ Little Homestead In Boise said...

So sorry and goes to show how being prepared pays off! Good to have those things on hand. I have chicken emergency stuff on hand as well, good to be ready.

Leigh said...

Amy, that's very curious about your wethers. Did they show any symptoms? How old were they? The inflammation suggests some sort of irritation or infection. If it were just in the lining of the rumen that would be one thing, but other organs seems to open the door for something other than what they ate.

If they showed symptoms prior to death, that would give you a clue to start treatment. I would look for anti-inflammatories as either herbs or essential oils. Even so, this remedy can't hurt!

Nancy, I agree. Anyone with livestock has to be prepared to deal with many issues immediately. Have a good preppers kit is essential!

Rosalea said...

Those were a few tense hours! So very glad it all turned out OK! We have ferns called bracken up here, but they don't look at all like yours.

Debby Riddle said...

Ooof that is brutal! What great recipes though!
Pat Showalter talked me through a goat paralysis issue with one of mine after kidding. She knew way more than the vet. I was so thankful for good reception on the satellite phone, which isn't always the case. She talked me through an internal exam to determine whether there was another kid.The B vitamin complex made the biggest difference. I administered it by injections. I would never be without it. This goat developed a special bond with me that was so endearing. Glad she survived, she's a pretty one!

Henny Penny said...

Your goats are so lucky that you know what to do. I would have panicked. Our woods are full of those ferns. Never new the names of them, just ferns. Thankfully, our two goats never get out of their pen. Thanks for all your good information.

Leigh said...

Rosalea, very much so! As Kat pointed out above, the fern may not be bracken. But it's the only kind around here and the only thing that she ate before getting sick. But at least I had a remedy and she pulled through.

Debby, wow, that must have been nerve wracking! It's especially hard when the situation is new and stress levels are high. I've noticed too, that really sick goats that make it seem to know you've helped them and trust you all the more.

Henny, well, when immediate attention is required and I'm desperately hunting for information, it's pretty close to panic! I researched poisonous plants early one and know we have a few around, but not in areas the goats are allowed. This though, was something I didn't expect would happen.

Annie in Ocala said...

So glad she's doing good! Its good to know, I was going to temporarily fence an area with some of that growing in it, as I didn't think it was braken fern.... An let the group in to mow it down. We have braken fern around (I thought?) It doesn't look like that but no matter... At least I won't let youngsters in and supervise the olders. There's lots of stuff they do like growing in there....
And what a beautiful gal she is! Good that you jumped right on it!

Leigh said...

Annie, I ought to change the title of the post because I'm not positive on the fern ID, but it is what I saw her ingest before getting so sick. The treatment was originally for rhododendron poisoning, but the ingredients have the same effect no matter the source.

wyomingheart said...

Oh goodness, Leigh! Thank heaven you knew what to do! That is definitely too close! We learn so much from you! Thanks for sharing your stressful success!

Leigh said...

Wyomingheart, I'm very thankful I had an idea of what to do, but it was from hard lessons learned previously. Also successful, but stressful nonetheless!

Quinn said...

Leigh, I'm so glad she pulled through - what a good thing you were prepared!
I do wonder about the fern, since what I think of as brackens (here in New England) look very different. To my eye, your picture looks like the common-named "Christmas fern" - Polystichum acrostichoides. Just a thought.

Cederq said...

Ya did good realizing it was the Bracken fern, it is highly dangerous to goats and sheep. One of the first items when I fenced my property was to dig out all the ferns of what ever species out and the property, what a job! In Oregon where I grew up and working on a cousin's farm that was an monthly chore to walk the farm and dig rhododendrons, azaleas and ferns which all grew in abundance. I have used a tea pretty much as you described in treating known and unknown poisonings and just general distress in my goats. Any time I used that brew it was always followed up with a vit B complex injection. Rather be safer then sorrier...
Kevin

Leigh said...

Quinn, I thought it might be Boston fern, is that the same thing? I love ferns, but now would rather admire them from far, far away.

Kevin, your protocol sounds very similar to mine, and it works! Those ingredients and injectable B are items I keep on hand all the time now. We have a rhododendron in the yard I need to dig up. It's not in an area where the goats are allowed, but it makes me uncomfortable being there nonetheless.

Quinn said...

Hi Leigh - no, very different. "Boston fern" is Nephrolepis exaltata. "Christmas fern" is Polystichum acrostichoides.