Goat Horns: to Disbud or Not to Disbud?

Brown and white Nubian dairy goat kid that has been disbudded, and therefore has no horns.

Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of disbudding your goat kids, also known as dehorning. Why do goats have horns? Here's why goat owners choose to disbud their goats, or choose not to.

Should you disbud (dehorn) your goat kids?

Updated July 2023

Whether or not goats should have horns can be a hot issue!

You'll find goat owners on both sides of this fence, and each owner will probably be very vocal about their choice. 

While disbudding is not a pleasant process - for the goat or the owner - it's quickly over and the kid will have a nice clean, hornless head when it grows up.

Both male and female goats have horns

Both male and female goats have horns, but most dairy goats, both male and female, are disbudded as kids so they won't have horns as adults. Show rules do not allow horns on dairy goats.

Meat goat owners are less likely to disbud the kids. Most show rules require horns for breeding does (females), while those shown in the market goat classes can be hornless. 

Goat dairy owners usually disbud their goats. These owners spend a lot more time around their goats every day, and as well as being safer for the humans, a hornless goat won't get caught in the dairy stanchion (milkstand) like a horned goat can.

On the other hand, owners who don't show goats or run a goat dairy can do as they wish when it comes to their own goats' horns.

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Why most dairy goats don't have horns

Hornless goats are easier to milk because they can't get their horns stuck in the milk stand. They also don't get their horns caught in fences, and are safer for their handlers to be around.

Almost all of my own goats have been disbudded. I've had a couple of goats with horns in the past: the buck that I borrowed from a neighbor up the road and our youngest daughter's two 4-H boer does had horns. 

In the buck's case, he was an adult that hadn't been disbudded when young, and he was only here for a season before he went back home where the rest of his herd mates had horns. 

The boer does were a menace to my dairy goats. They knew they had horns and they knew how to use them.

They threatened my dairy does, they often got their heads stuck in the fencing and in the hay rack, and I was caught by their horns several times by accident when a doe would sling her head around.

Four goats eating hay from a large round bale. Dairy goats are usually disbudded as kids.

And because our young granddaughter came every summer to stay with us, my rather relaxed horn policy became no horns allowed

Since I no longer had the horned buck and the market does were sold as soon as our daughter left for college, we always had the new kids disbudded in order to stick to our own rule.

How goats are disbudded

Goat kids are born without horns, of course. They have horn buds on top of their heads, just under the skin, where the horns will grow. 

In the disbudding process the kids' horn buds are 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.

Local anesthetics, nerve blocks or other forms of analgesics can be given to the kid before the procedure, and pain relievers are usually given afterwards.

Goat scurs

Some disbudded goat kids can develop scurs if the disbudding procedure isn't done correctly or completely.

A scur is a mis-developed horn growth that usually isn't attached to the goat's skull. 

Scurs can break off when the goat is older, or can curl around and press against the goat's head. Some scurs are flat, while others can be pointy but might stick out at a strange angle.

Often when a scur breaks off, you'll find the goat with a lot of blood on its face, but it usually isn't a serious injury. Breaking a true horn, however, can be serious and can involve a lot more blood. 

Alternative ways to dehorn goats

There are two additional ways to remove horns that some people use instead of cauterizing the horn buds: caustic disbudding paste and banding.

I don't recommend using caustic horn paste to disbud a goat kid. It can drip into the goat's eyes or be transferred to another goat's skin from the kid's head, including to the mother's udder when the kid nurses, causing chemical burns on the skin.

Banding is a method that restricts the blood supply to the horn with a very tight band so the horn will eventually fall off. 

My personal opinion is that cauterizing a kid's horn buds by disbudding is more humane than either of these other methods, and it only takes a few moments and is over.

When is a goat kid too old to disbud?

After about two weeks many people believe it's too late to disbud a goat kid. My veterinarian was willing to try after the horns broke through the skin, but warned that scurs were more likely. After 3-4 weeks of age, it's generally too late to disbud.

Buck kids' horns grow faster than doe kids' horns, so sometimes a doe kid can be disbudded later than a buckling.

I don't recommend trying to remove the horns from a goat that is past the age of disbudding. This would be a dehorning procedure, not a simple disbudding. 

As my vet put it many years ago, if you have an adult goat's horns removed, be prepared to lose the goat. At that age, it's a major procedure, and goats often don't react well to general anesthesia.

A goat kid after being disbudded. The hornbuds are almost healed.

In the photo above you can see the rings on Firefly's head from being disbudded a week or so before the picture was taken.

In the photo below Firefly is a yearling. She, and all my other goats, had a clean, hornless head as an adult.

This yearling goat was disbudded as a kid, so she has no horns.

Why goats have horns

Yes, horns do have a purpose. Horns help goats deal with hot weather, and of course are a form of defense.

The blood vessels in a goat's horn are very near the surface. As the blood circulates through the horns, it's cooled by the air around the goat's head, thereby cooling the goat as the blood circulates through the body.

Goats' ears have the same purpose: the blood vessels in the ears cool the goat's blood in hot weather. If you've ever had a goat cut its ear, you know that ear wounds bleed a lot because there are so many blood vessels in the ears.

All goats will head-butt another goat at some time or another. Bucks use their horns when they fight other bucks, sometimes injuring themselves or the other animal. Horns are also defense against predators.

Goats, like other horned animals, do not shed their horns.

Polled goats don't have horns

Some goats are "polled." Polled goats lack the genetics for horns, and simply don't grow them.

However, polled goats aren't the answer to the question of dehorning goats. Polled goats have other genetic issues that are of real concern if you breed a polled goat to another polled goat, including some serious reproductive disorders

Even breeding a polled goat to a horned goat that carries polled genetics inherited from their ancestors can cause problems.

If you simply want a couple of goats as pets and don't plan to breed them, buying polled goats might work out well for you. 

If you want to breed goats though, this isn't the answer. If you plan to rely on polled goats so you don't have to worry about disbudding, do some deep research into this and also into the bloodlines of your goats.

Find out how to tell if a goat kid will have horns or will be polled here.

What's the answer?

Those who decide to disbud their goat kids are just as passionate about their reasons as are those who decide to let their goats have horns. 

So, should you disbud your goat kids? That's a question only you can answer after you've had a chance to weigh all the options and reasons.

Many veterinarians will disbud your goat kids for a very reasonable fee. If your vet doesn't work on large animals such as goats, try other vets in your area or ask other goat owners if they can do it for you or if they know someone who can.

Have your plan in place and know who will disbud your goat kids for you before kidding season arrives.

You'll find more goat information in this collection of all of my goat posts.

As a goat lover and a homestead gardener, I'm excited to also share my gardening tips with you - from planting seeds to enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor! You can find my gardening advice and insights right here, so let's dig in and cultivate some fresh, delicious produce together.

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Should you dehorn your goat kids? Why my goats don't have horns.


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