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‘They’re like piranhas’: These goats will eat your Christmas tree when you’re done with it

The discarded holiday decorations are a tasty snack with some health benefits, farm owners say

Local farm feeds old Christmas trees to goats
Channell Homestead, in Hanson, is accepting old Christmas trees that will be fed to their goats. (Shelby Lum/Globe Staff)

There are a few rules you must abide by before you’re allowed the privilege of letting farm goats happily devour your Christmas tree.

First, there cannot be tinsel, ornaments, doodads, baubles, or anything else still on the branches. No goat should eat that.

Second, the trees can’t have browning needles and should be free of sprays, pesticides, fire-retardant, or any sort of fake-snow coating. If you’re unsure of the origins of your tree, contact the seller if possible.

And lastly, in most cases, you’ve got to do the heavy lifting and bring the goods to the goats.

If you’ve satisfied these requirements, then there are some goats scattered at properties throughout New England — and beyond! — that would love to chow down on the spiky branches of your discarded Christmas centerpiece.

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“The goats just tear through it. They see something green and they go right for it,” said Stephen Murray, who owns Pine Cobble Farm in North Adams, with his wife, Airaceli. “It’s a pretty effective way to get rid of a tree.”

Murray said he has six goats at his private farm that will swarm trees donated by people bidding farewell to the holidays. He said the goats will eat all of the needles and then chew the bark off of the branches and the main part of the tree. The leftover skeleton — there isn’t much, Murray said — is then used in a burn pile.

Goats at the Channell Homestead
Goats at the Channell HomesteadJim Davis/Globe Staff

This marks the third year Murray will be taking trees. He said those interested in gifting the goats with a delicious snack should reach out to the couple on Facebook first, to arrange a time and drop-off location. Last year, his goats ate almost 30 trees in a month, Murray said.

“You throw it in there and they’re like piranhas. It’s like a feeding frenzy. They come running down and they jump on it,” he said. “Trees are full of Vitamin C, so it’s a good way for them to stay healthy over the winter and give them something to gnaw on.”

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Channell Homestead in Hanson is also soliciting donations this year. In a post on Facebook, the farm said their 12 goats are eager to congregate around Christmas trees after the holidays to enjoy a “special treat with benefits.”

In a phone interview, Christanie Channell, who owns the farm with her husband, Matt, said people are welcome to pull up to the fence along their driveway and leave the trees near a designated sign that reads “Christmas tree drop off.”

Later, she will haul the trees to her goats, which will eat them “like candy.”

“They just go nuts,” she said, stressing that people make sure to bring clean, green trees. “Once they finish one tree we take that and compost it and we will give them another tree. It’s a special treat, and what’s the best part about it is it’s a natural dewormer for them. It really helps with their digestive system.”

Meanwhile, in Maine, the owners of Appleton Creamery, a small-scale family farm, are similarly inviting people this week to stop by with their trees.

A goat at the Channell Homestead chowed on a Christmas tree.
A goat at the Channell Homestead chowed on a Christmas tree. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“The goats would love your Christmas tree! Drop off your clean, no spray, no tinsel tree for them to snack on,” the farm said in a post on Facebook, which included a video of goats chomping into a tree with a satisfying crunch.

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Although the MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen isn’t taking any trees for its goats, officials there did tout the benefits of feeding them to the animals and encouraged people to find other places where they might be able to drop off the tasty snacks.

Carrie Fyfe, the farm’s Equine & Farm Animal Outreach and Rescue coordinator, said that while goats should not be fed an exclusive diet of pine needles, “the occasional holiday tree adds variety that goats enjoy and nutrients that benefit their overall health.”

“The most important consideration, however, is to ensure the trees are free of any ornaments, tinsel, garland or other inorganic substances that they could accidentally ingest,” Fyfe said in a statement, echoing others.

For Deb Yablonski, owner of Stonehenge Farm in Rhode Island, the first tree for her roughly 30 goats arrived just one day after Christmas. Yablonski expects more deliveries throughout the coming days, which she will gladly accept. Last year, the farm collected around 200 trees — and over time, her goats ate all of them.

“They were all skeletonized,” she said. “It gives them something to do as well as being very good for them.”

Yablonski, who has been doing this for more than a decade, said her goats get as excited about trees arriving at the farm as children do about finding gifts underneath them.

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“They see the cars coming and they crash the edge of the fence waiting for their Christmas trees,” she said. “This is the most wonderful time of the year for a goat.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.