Goats go gaga over old Christmas trees
STARKSBORO — Now that the holidays are over, Addison County residents are recycling, composting or otherwise disposing of thousands of Christmas trees.
Andrea Craft of Lost Woods Farm in Starksboro would love to snag a few of those, if possible.
“Our goats would love to help you take care of your Christmas tree!” Craft wrote in a Jan. 3 online post.
Seasonal evergreens, it turns out, make a great meal for goats, sheep and other animals — as long as tinsel, ornaments and hooks have been removed.
On Monday morning, as poofy wet snow fell across the county, Craft and her 9-year-old daughter, Celia, let their nine goats and six sheep into the back yard.
There, not far from the house, lay a Christmas tree that just days earlier had stood decorated in Craft’s mother’s home.
The animals jockeyed for position, tearing off sprigs of greens and gnawing at the bark. Some climbed on top of the tree. Others ducked their heads under the branches, nibbling close to the trunk.
One petulant sheep, finding itself squeezed out, bellowed and gave its neighbor a vigorous head butt.
“When we bring a new tree in they’ll swarm over it,” Craft said. The goats and sheep typically eat the needles, bark and branch tips. “Depending on the size, they might take one or two days to eat it.”
Last year their goats and sheep ate about 10 Christmas trees, Craft said. The skeletal remains get set aside for summer bonfires.
In addition to soliciting donations from their neighbors, the family is making arrangements to pick up a few discarded trees from the Home Depot in Williston, which has been saving them for local farmers, Craft said.
“The trees are definitely a health boost,” she added.
TREES OF LIFE
“It’s fairly common to feed Christmas trees to goats and sheep,” said Kimberly Hagen, a grazing specialist at UVM Extension’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Berlin. “For animals that pretty much live on dry hay throughout the winter, I suspect part of the appeal is the fresh greenery.”
Hagen used to raise goats and sheep herself, and she used to feed them Christmas trees.
“I’ve seen them eaten all the way down to the bark,” she said. “They seem to prefer balsam and spruce over white pine trees.”
Evergreen needles contain a significant amount of vitamin C, which provides part of that “health boost.”
In 1536, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, who had long used evergreen needles to brew healthful teas, shared their concoction with the explorer Jacques Cartier, whose men used it as a remedy against scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.
The needles in that tea are thought to have come from arborvitae or balsam fir trees.
Anyone interested in donating their Christmas tree to Lost Woods Farm may email Andrea Craft to make arrangements: [email protected].
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].
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