Is It Safe to Feed Christmas Trees to Livestock? “It Depends!”

From a 2022 Lancaster (PA) Farming article written by Chelsea Hill of the Penn State Extension Service comes this timely bit of information:

“Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches.” One of the many wonderful traditions surrounding the holiday season this winter is the purchasing of a beautiful coniferous tree and decorating it with family for all to see.

But what, may you ask, do you do with a Christmas tree after the holidays are past? Unlike the Grinch, who may have taken the tree back, most families dispose of it in the regular trash, use it as part of their compost or, what seems to be growing in popularity in recent years, feed it as a treat to backyard livestock.

The positives of this new trend are that the trees can have a second life or purpose. They can provide varying levels of supplemental nutrition and may have anthelmintic properties due to high levels of naturally occurring tannins, predominantly found in the bark.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough studies to verify exactly how high the levels of tannins after consumption would be, so it is merely a guess that a sheep or goat would consume enough to reap the benefits of a natural dewormer such as this.

The other variable that needs to be taken into consideration is that there are multiple species of Christmas trees available on today’s market: spruces (blue, white, Norway), firs (Douglas, balsam, Fraser, Canaan, noble, grand, concolor), pines (white, Virginia, Scotch), Leyland, Arizona and red cedar. For each species, there could be varying levels of nutritional benefits and anthelmintic properties or, in some cases, toxic properties.

Depending on the variety, coniferous trees could be poisonous when fed at high rates or even at low rates over a long period of time.

For example, ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) needles contain isocupressic acid which, when fed to pregnant cattle in late pregnancy, can cause abortions, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Although ponderosa pine is not commonly found in Pennsylvania, there have been other coniferous species that have been found to have the same toxic acid, including Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), lodgepole pine (P. contorta) and common juniper (Juniperus communis).

Another study from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service titled “Pine needle toxicoses in cattle and goats” found that in a small case study of 24 mixed Spanish-breed goats, feeding varying levels of ponderosa pine needles, bark and needle tips did not cause abortions as hypothesized but was toxic in multiple groups of the study.

Are These Trees Right for Your Animals?

If feeding leftover Christmas trees is something you’re considering for your operation, remember that just like you wouldn’t randomly eat 10 pounds of chocolate because of the digestive upset sure to follow, the same could be said when feeding this coniferous treat to your stock. Only offer one tree at a time, and space them out so that your animals are only getting small amounts.

This is especially important for our ruminant species, as sudden changes in diet can lead to acidosis, bloat or worse if not monitored. Avoid feeding late-pregnancy dams to avoid the potential for abortion, especially when the variety of the tree is not known.

Make sure all trees taken in are clean and that the previous owners know where they were sourced. Some trees are sprayed with pesticides, preservatives or flame retardants before being sold to customers, and these trees should be avoided.

Remove all decorations that were previously on the tree, being careful to make sure each strand of tinsel is discarded and no leftover ornament hooks are on branches before feeding.

Always follow your intuition. If you’re ever unsure of the quality or source of a tree, it is better to use it for compost than potentially lose one of your animals.



Livestock Conservancy: Sheep Shearing Video – How and Why


The Livestock Conservancy is thrilled to announce the release of our short film, How to Shear Sheep & Why It’s Important. Directed by Jody Shapiro, the compelling 12-minute film showcases the beautiful dance between sheep and shearer, the importance of sheep shearing to the health and well-being of sheep, and the impact that Slow Fashion and local wool have on the economy and local community.

Watch How to Shear a Sheep & Why video

The film begins with an introduction by Dr. Temple Grandin, award-winning author, animal welfare advocate, and Lifetime Member of The Livestock Conservancy. Throughout the film, viewers will

  • Meet expert shearers and rare breed sheep
  • Learn tips on the best way to shear humanely, including preparing sheep for shearing and best tools for the job
  • Understand why shearing is important for the health of the sheep
  • Watch the art of humane sheep shearing
  • Discover how you can support a sustainable industry and help save rare sheep breeds from extinction. (Hint – it’s by supporting those that raise them, shear them, and make products from their fiber)
We hope that after watching this film, you will feel an appreciation for the art of humane sheep shearing and why it is so vital to the health of sheep. Please watch and share this video with your communities. We need your help spreading the word about why shearing is an important part of conserving rare breeds!

To learn more about our work with rare breeds and why conserving them is important for maintaining biodiversity and food security, visit our website at

Thank you to Isabella Rossellini, Executive Producer of the film and Ambassador for The Livestock Conservancy for her generous gift that made this project possible. 


The Livestock Conservancy is a national non-profit membership organization working to protect more than 150 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction.

Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em Initiative
Interested in helping save rare breed sheep from extinction? Want to support shearers, shepherds, and the slow fashion movement? Sign up as a Fiber Artist to craft for a cause. This initiative encourages knitters, spinners, weavers, felters, and other crafters to use fiber from rare breed sheep in their projects. Using their wool puts sheep back to work on farms across the U.S. Enroll online at

Why is genetic diversity important?

Like all ecological systems, agriculture depends on genetic diversity to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Genetic diversity in domestic animals is revealed in distinct breeds, each with different characteristics and uses. Traditional, historic breeds retain essential attributes for survival and self-sufficiency – fertility, foraging ability, longevity, maternal instincts and resistance to disease and parasites. As agriculture changes, this genetic diversity may be needed for a broad range of uses and opportunities. Once lost, genetic diversity is gone forever.

What are Heritage Breeds?

Heritage breeds are livestock and poultry breeds raised by our forefathers. These breeds were carefully selected and bred over time to develop traits that made them well-adapted to the local environment and they thrived under farming practices and cultural conditions that are very different from those found in modern agriculture.

Heritage animals once roamed America’s pastoral landscape, but today these breeds are in danger of extinction. Modern agriculture has changed, causing many of these breeds to fall out of favor. Heritage breeds store a wealth of genetic resources that are important for our future and the future of our agricultural food system.



Contact: Emily Rose Johnson
(919) 542-5704

Editor’s Notes:

Watch video and learn more at

Photos and interviews available upon request.

Import Alert: Sheep and Goat Embryos/Oocytes Now Eligible for Import from the U.K.

Issuance Date: December 1, 2022

Effective Date: Immediately     


Effective immediately, sheep and goat in-vivo embryos and oocytes from the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales) and Northern Ireland will be eligible for import into the United States. Importation of such commodities is only permitted for direct transfer to recipient females in U.S. flocks or herds listed in the National Scrapie Database, or to an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)-approved embryo storage facility where they may be kept until transfer to the aforementioned recipient females.

The importer of record must meet post-entry requirements pertaining to further distribution of imported embryos/oocytes, identification of any progeny derived from the imported embryos/oocytes, and recordkeeping. The import requirements and post-entry requirements are available on the Live Animal Imports website.

APHIS requires an import permit for importation of sheep and goat embryos/oocytes from the United Kingdom. The shipment must also be accompanied by a health certificate endorsed by the competent authority of the exporting region (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Great Britain; Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland). Examples of the required health certificates can be found on the APHIS website.

For any questions regarding import of sheep and goat embryos/oocytes from the United Kingdom for transfer to eligible U.S. recipient females, please contact Dr. Mary Kate Anderson at (301)851-3300, Option 2 or e-mail

For importation of sheep and goat embryos/oocytes for any purpose other than reproduction, please consult the Veterinary Services Permitting Assistant (VSPA) to determine the relevant import requirements.


Please share the following link with others who may be interested in these updates. Click here to subscribe to the VS Animal Health Stakeholder Registry. This link will also allow you to change or cancel your subscriptions.

Preparing sheep and goats for breeding season

The following very timely article comes from Michael Metzger, Michigan State University/ Jackson County Extension’s Small Ruminant Instructor:

As fall approaches, so does the normal breeding season for most sheep and goats. Consideration for things like parasite count, hoof health, body condition scoring, and overall health of breeding stock should be evaluated prior to breeding.

Photo by Michael Metzger, MSU Extension.

Internal Parasites 

All breeding stock, males and females, should be checked for internal parasites. The FAMACHA scoring system allows small ruminant producers to make deworming decisions based on an estimate of the level of anemia in sheep. Animals that are showing a high FAMACHA score (over 3) or have a high fecal egg count should be treated for internal parasites before breeding season. Managing internal parasites is an important management practice. Problems with parasites, especially gastrointestinal parasites, can cause irreversible damage and even death to the animal.

Hoof Care 

Animals with long or damaged hooves should be trimmed before breeding season as well. You should inspect the animals’ hoofs and using a knife or hoof trimmers, remove any dirt, mud, manure, or stones from the hoof walls and then trim accordingly. A strong, rotten smell is often an indication of hoof rot, which can be treated by using a commercially available anti-fungal product.

Body Condition Scoring 

Body Condition Score, or BCS, is a system used to evaluate the fleshiness of the animal. BCS’s for sheep and goats are given on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being emaciated and five being obese. In order to properly access the BCS of goats and sheep they must be handled. BCS is done by feeling the amount of fat cover over the ribs, loin, and backbone. Michigan State University Extension recommends that does and ewes should be in the 2.5 to 3 range at the beginning of breeding season. Evaluating your breeding females to make sure they are in good condition for breeding is an important first step. Does and ewes that are in good condition, not too thin or too fat, are more likely to conceive and have kids or lambs in the spring. Animals that are too thin will not conceive, have a low twinning rate, and potentially low weaning weights. Animals that are over conditioned have an increased risk of metabolic issues such as pregnancy toxemia during their pregnancy. Over-conditioned animals also have an increased risk of dystocia during kidding or lambing. 

If breeding females are below BCS 2.5, then they should be placed on good quality pasture or supplemented with grain at one half to one pound of supplement per head per day for at least two weeks before breeding. Having the does or ewes on a diet where they are increasing weight will increase the odds of having twins or triplets. This is also referred to as flushing. Flushing will not be effective on over conditioned animals. 

The health of the does or ewes is important going into breeding season, but so is the health of the buck or ram. It is his job to make sure the females get bred. BCS of the buck or ram should be a little heavier than the females, 3 to 3.5. Many bucks and rams will focus mainly on breeding during the breeding season and will lose body condition as a result. Some producers may also have a breeding soundness exam done on their buck or ram to make sure they are producing viable semen. An infertile or low fertility buck/ram can be the reason for a lower number of females becoming pregnant. 


Body Conditioning Scoring

Taking the appropriate steps this fall as breeding season approaches will lead to a successful breeding season and put the producer on a path to a successful kidding/lambing season next spring. 

Condé Nast Traveler Highlights Wool

From ASI Weekly, the American Sheep Industry’s newsletter dated September 2, 2022 comes the following item of interest:

This week, Condé Nast Traveler offered online readers a look at wool clothing they should add to their travel wardrobes.


“When you think of wool clothing, your mind probably goes to chunky socks, stiff slacks, or expensive cashmere that you’re afraid to ruin. But a recent push toward sustainable fashion has put wool under a new spotlight, with more brands using the fabric to create clothes that are both functional and fashionable, and wearable in all seasons.


“But what makes wool the perfect fabric for travel clothes? Some may say that wool is too thick and itchy to be comfortable, but wool comes in many forms. Merino wool – for instance – is an ultra-fine and super soft wool that’s lightweight and breathable, creating clothes that are great for adventure travel and city trips in both cold and warm climates. Wool is also odor-resistant – the absorbent fibers in the fabric wick away sweat and lock in odor – so even if you sweat through a wool shirt during a hike in the Adirondacks or a summer day in Paris, once it dries it will be odorless and ready to wear without washing, making it easier to pack light. Wool is also wrinkle-proof, so opting for a wool T-shirt or shift dress on your travels means that you’ll look fresh and polished, even if you forgot to pack a steamer.


“While adventure and performance clothing brands have been harnessing the power of wool for decades, recent fashion-forwards brands like Babaa and Nadaam are putting a stylish spin on the material, creating everything from shoes to dresses – and of course, sweaters – that are perfect for today’s travelers.”


Click Here to find out which eight pieces of clothing the magazine recommended for frequent travelers.


Source: Condé Nast Traveler

Rutgers Cooperative Extension message: Nitrates In Forage

GSSB member CB Katzenbach is sharing the following message from NJ extension agent Mike Westendorf regarding the current drought and the potential health problems for all ruminants that may be caused by increasing nitrogen levels in pastures & forage. It’s very timely as most of the area is in moderate to severe drought:

With a large portion of New Jersey receiving abnormally low rainfall during the 2022 growing season there is concern about excess nitrate accumulation in forages.  Excess nitrate in forages can result in sickness and death in cows, sheep, goats, and other ruminants consuming these feeds.

It might be helpful to understand the danger forages containing higher levels of nitrates pose to animal health.  Nitrate is a common form of nitrogen found in the soil, which is taken up by plants and converted to protein in the plant.  Under normal growing conditions, nitrates do not accumulate in the plant. However, when plants are stressed with dry growing conditions, photosynthetic and metabolic processes are inhibited and the potential for accumulation of nitrates increases.

Utilizing drought-affected crops for livestock feed is a common practice; however, producers must consider the potential risks of nitrate toxicity.   Harvesting forage crops that are more susceptible should be done so that the lower segments of the plant stalk, which has the highest chance of storing nitrates, are not harvested.

Ruminant animals can convert nitrate to nitrite and ammonia in the rumen and detoxify nitrate.  When the level of nitrate builds up in the rumen due to higher levels in the diet rumen microbes cannot convert all the nitrate present to ammonia because the conversion of nitrate to nitrite occurs more quickly than the conversion of nitrite to ammonia. If levels of nitrate are great enough, nitrite will accumulate in the rumen and be absorbed through the wall of the rumen into the blood supply.  Nitrite can combine with hemoglobin in the blood and convert it to methemoglobin, which will carry very little oxygen to the tissues.  The first sign of nitrate poisoning is often dead animals.  Other physical signs of nitrate poisoning include difficult breathing, muscle incoordination and staggering, diarrhea and frequent urination, heavy salivation, cyanosis, and collapse.  Sublethal poisoning may result in a loss of appetite, lowered milk production, slow growth, abortions, and poor fertility.

A couple precautions about feeding drought affected forages containing high levels of nitrates:

  1. Order of feeding priority: Silage > Hay > Grazing > Green chop. Ensiling will destroy 40-60% of nitrates. Therefore, silage crops will have the lowest levels of nitrates due to bacterial destruction. Producing forage for dry hay does not destroy nitrates. Green chop will be the riskiest to feed. If nitrate levels are high enough, ensiling may be the only way to salvage the forage.
  2. Never feed forage containing greater than 1.5% nitrate.  Ruminants, especially cows, can be fed forage containing <1.5% nitrate if slowly adapted and provided the forage is only a portion of the diet.
  3. If contamination is suspected or if animals are showing signs of toxicity, the best option is to call a veterinarian, they will be able to provide veterinary treatment.

The attached factsheet and the link to a Plant and Pest Advisory article will give you more information if you get questions.

Educational material will be provided, and meetings are planned to help with questions. The State Department of Agriculture is planning a testing program through their feed laboratory to assist producers in managing affected forages.

Contact Meredith Melendez, Agricultural Agent II and Associate Professor, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County, by calling 609-989-6830 for additional  information.