August 8, 2016

Goat Horns: to Disbud or Not to Disbud?


Goat horns vs. disbudding is a hot issue; you'll find goat owners on both sides of the fence and each owner will probably be very vocal about their choice. While disbudding is not a pleasant process, it's quickly over and the kid will have a nice clean head when it grows up.

Disbudding goat kids can be a hotly-debated topic.

Both male and female goats have horns, but most dairy goats are disbudded as kids so they won't have horns as adults.

Hornless goats are easier to milk; they don't get their heads stuck in the milkstand, and are safer for their handlers to be around.

For the most part my goats have been hornless. I've had a couple of goats with horns in the past: the buck I borrowed from a neighbor up the road, and our youngest daughter's two 4-H market does.

The does in particular were a menace: they knew they had horns and they knew how to use them. They threatened the dairy does, they got their horns caught in the fencing and the hay rack, and I was caught several times by accident when a doe would sling her head around. Horns can hurt.

Dairy goats are usually disbudded as kids.
Our borrowed buck with horns, on the right

And because our young granddaughter came every summer to stay with us, my rather relaxed "no horns except on the boer goats" policy became "no horns allowed". We no longer had the horned buck and the market does were sold as soon as our daughter left for college.

In the disbudding process the horn bud is burned with an electric iron to cauterize the horn material and prevent it from growing. Some people prefer to do this before the kid is a week old; others prefer to wait until just before the horn breaks through the skin at about two to three weeks of age. My vet falls into the latter category.

I don't suggest using caustic horn paste that can drip into the goats' eyes or be transferred to another goats' skin from the kid's head. I don't recommend banding horns so that the blood supply will die and the horn will [hopefully] eventually fall off. If you want your goats to be hornless, disbudding is the best and most humane way to do so.

Goat kid after being disbudded.
Firefly just after being disbudded

In the above photo, you can see the rings on Firefly's head from being disbudded. In the photo below, the same goat as a yearling.

This yearling goat was disbudded as a kid.
Firefly as an adult

I don't recommend trying to remove the horns from a goat that is past the age of disbudding.

Some dairy breeds have polled individuals who lack the genetics for horns. Polled goats seem to have some other genetic issues though, so if this is something that interests you, please do some research before you decide.




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22 comments:

  1. disbudding is one of my least favorite farm jobs, but we disbud our Dairy goats too, for the same reasons you do.

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  2. Sandra, I can't even "do" the disbudding, although I can hold them while someone else does it, so I'm impressed if you can do it yourself. I used to have friends do the disbudding for me, but now I take them to the vet who charges just a couple of dollars per kid.

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  3. Kathi,
    I have only done it a couple of times. My husband does it.
    One of his least favorite farm chores.

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  4. Thanks for posting this - we will be adding goats to our homestead soon and this is good to think about. I'm tending towards leaving horns be...is there any evidence that horned goats are more aggressive or vice versa?

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  5. Lila, I've been around other peoples' goats, both horned and not, and I do think the horned goats are more aggressive towards the other goats. I can't say if they are towards humans, I think that would depend on the goat's personality and how much they've been handled.

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  6. As a goat dreamer, but not a goat owner, silly me just assumed they were born with or without horns. This is very informative. If I take the plunge and get goats, you and I will have to chat. Thanks for sharing today on The 104 Homestead Blog Hop!

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  7. We will do that, Jessica. Don't forget!

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  8. Sorry stupid question here - how painful do you think it is for the disbudding?

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  9. I don't think it's a dumb question at all. It hurts. They squirm and cry, but two minutes later they are running back to mom for a comforting nurse and they act as though nothing happened.

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  10. Hi kathi, I don't have goats so have not had to face this issue. Just wondering if there is any sort of local anesthetic than can be used to ease the pain?

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  11. Janet, I had to do some research on your question. The use of anesthesia isn't common during disbudding. Goats don't react well to anesthesia and using it can make a simple procedure much more dangerous. I found only one reference to local anesthetic, at Penn State University website, which recommends the use of a local before disbudding. No one I know and no vet in my area uses a local first, for that very reason: even a local anesthetic can be dangerous to a goat.

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  12. This was very well written! Horns or no horns can be such a huge debate amongst goat owners! I have two goats presently, just over a year old and both with horns. So far they have caused no problems, and both seem to have great attitudes. They use their horns very sparingly, and I've never seen them act aggressively. They do get their heads stuck occasionally, but it seems that's something most goat owners deal with! I chose to leave horns because I feel as though God put them there for a reason. At the end of the day though, to each their own!!

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  13. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Monica. Very well-put. You are right that horns do serve a purpose: they are a cooling mechanism. I'm glad that your particular goats get along so well.

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  14. Thanks for sharing today on The Hop!

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  15. Years ago when we had Alpines, we had a goat named Honey ( short for Honeysuckle Rose). How she came to have horns I really don't remember. One day I went into the barn and the one wall was just covered in blood. I found Honey and she was covered in blood also. I called the vet. He cut off the rest of that horn horn and I had him do the other one. I really didn't know whether she would live through the procedure or not. It was horribly painful. In fact she decided to disappear somewhere in the field. I figured she may have gone off to die. On the fourth day, she came out of the field, ready to eat, drink and join the herd again. But, it was one heck of a long time before she would ever let anyone touch her head again! It was A LOT easier to burn the nubs off of a kid - even with the horrible screams and smell) than to go through what I went through with Honey. I HIGHLY recommend it.

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    1. Thank you, Kris, for telling us the other side of the story. What an ordeal! Poor Honey, I'm very glad she survived. I agree, it's easier (and safer for the goat) to disbud them when young.

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  16. We have Boers, so they kept their horns. We've been "caught" by them (one doe in particular thinks it's funny to swing her head around 360 degrees) and it does hurt! But I want them to be able to defend themselves. So far we haven't had real problems.

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    1. Yep, boers are supposed to have horns, especially if you're showing them in 4-H or FFA. That's why our daughter's two goats still had theirs. I wasn't sorry when we sold them. I think the biggest thing is that either all of your goats should have horns or all of them should not have horns. It levels the playing field in the herd. Some horned goats can be downright mean to their herdmates that don't have horns.

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  17. I have both horned and dehorned goats. I definitely prefer dehorned! But it is a hard process, although really no different than branding a calf. But baby goats are so cute and snugly :)

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    1. They sure are! But some breeds of cattle are dehorned as calves too, and as you mentioned, they are branded. It's just one of those things you have to do, like castrating.

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  18. All the dairy cows around us have had their horns removed. Since I don't own any of them, I really don't have an opinion about it. I just know that, when I see cows with horns, it is an interesting and different sight to see. Thanks for all the information you share in this post.

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    1. We have a few ranches here that raise longhorns and even watusi cattle; those are a sight to see! Thank you, Betty.

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