Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
is the state flower of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. They can keep it!! In Tennessee some also refer to mountain laurel as ivy. In the north the mountain laurel is considered a shrub, but in the south this plant can grow to be a small tree. While mountain laurel is a hardy plant that likes bright sunshine, it can live in shade too. Here in southern Middle Tennessee, it grows wild under tall trees both at the edge and often deep in the woods. During the spring mountain laurel has dainty pink or white blossoms; year around it has dark green leaves.

The long, leathery, shiny, dark green leaves must look yummy to a goat, especially in the wintertime when everything else is in shades of brown because our goats are willing to wade a creek and climb a bluff (to someone else's property) to get to them.

Did I mention that mountain laurel is poisonous to goats?

Our first goat who got into mountain laurel, Callie Mae, was found laying on her side with her head thrown back over her shoulder. She acted drunk and couldn't/wouldn't get up, and my panic immediately set in. I called the vet who came on out and took her in to the Animal Hospital. He diagnosed her as having a neurological disorder. When she died, he sent samples to the State Lab in Nashville for a necropsy. The result: healthy goat died. (Try explaining that one.) My father-in-law, Paul Hillhouse, said, "She got into the ivy and was poisoned." Paul and I then searched the hillside and found a shrub which I cut off and took back to the barn and burned.

We were then enlightened with a story about Mrs. Hughes ducks. One afternoon the ducks got into the mountain laurel on the hillside between the Hughes place and the Hillhouse place. Instead of finding their way back home, the staggered, like drunken sailors, around the bluff road to Paul and Bertie’s. Mrs. Hughes was called to come retrieve her drugged ducks – all of whom survived their little outing away from the pond.

Several months later we had a young buck, Hamlet, we found staggering around. We rushed him to the vet who said he had a neurological disorder, put him on an IV, gave him antibiotics and heaven only knows what else, and a week later sent him home. Paul once again stated, "Ivy." We looked, and found a single leaf from the original shrub. It had returned, so I pulled up the root as much as I could then burn the root in an attempt to kill it. A couple weeks later the same buck started staggering around again, so back to the vet's, more treatments, and this time he got to come home after only four days. Paul again stated, "Ivy," and asked why we took him to the vet.

"The next time he gets into the ivy, feed him lard and a raw egg."

It wasn't long before Hamlet started staggering around acting drunk once more. This time we drenched him with Crisco oil (lard is really hard to find these days, and we had no idea how we could convince Hamlet to eat it anyway) and a raw egg. He slowly recovered. Again, Paul and I looked for the ivy. This time, after over an hour of looking, we found a small shrub, under a fallen tree on the bluff. It was not easy to get to. We borrowed a young lad from the area and I lowered the lad, by rope, down to the shrub. He cut it, retrieved all the leaves, and burned the hill. The mountain laurel was on a hillside where the goats played. (We needed to have a fire on that hillside anyway.)

It was almost two years before another goat discovered mountain laurel. This time it was not on our property. The goats had crossed the creek to get to some really rich browse on the other side. That would have been fine, but one or two found the bush up on the bluff and couldn't resist trying it. This time they were caught in the act, and the goat who had eaten the mountain laurel was drenched with canola oil and raw egg and seemed to be recovering. Until she died.

Lesson learned: when doctoring a goat with something that may upset their digestive system, be sure to give a probiotic to restart the rumen. Our goats cannot be left in our lower field where there is wonderful browse for them until we get a fence put up on the bluff separating our property from where the mountain laurel grows so temptingly.

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Ken and Pat Motes
Clear Creek Farms
33 South Clear Creek Road
Fall River, Tennessee 38468
Phone: (931) 852-2167
Fax: (931) 852-2168

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