Goat Horns: to Disbud or Not to Disbud?

Disbudding goat kids can be a hotly-debated topic.

Goat horns can be 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 - for the goat or for 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, but most dairy goats are disbudded as kids so they won't have horns as adults.

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Why? Because hornless goats are easier to milk, they don't get their heads stuck in the milk stand or in fences, 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.

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.

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 in 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.

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 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.

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

I don't recommend using caustic horn paste. It can drip into the goats' eyes or be transferred to another goats' skin from the kid's head, such as to its mother's udder when the kid nurses.

I also don't recommend banding horns, a method that restricts the blood supply so the horn will [hopefully] fall off eventually. In my opinion this is more inhumane that burning the kid's horn buds by disbudding, which only takes a few moments.

If you want your goats to be hornless, disbudding is the best and most humane way to do accomplish it.

Goat kid 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 is a yearling. She, and all of my other goats, had a clean, hornless head as an adult.

This yearling goat was disbudded as a kid.

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

Do horns have any purpose then? Yes, they do: horns help a goat deal with hot weather.

There are many blood vessels in a goat's horns. As the blood circulates through the horns, it's cooled by the air around the goat's head, acting as a form of air conditioning.

A Nubian goat's long ears have the same effect: the many blood vessels in the ears cool the goat's blood in hot weather. (This is why elephants have big ears too.)

Bucks also use their horns when they fight other bucks, sometimes injuring themselves or the other animal. Horns are also defense against predators.

Those who have decided to disbud their goat kids are just as passionate about their reasons as are those who have decided to let their goats have horns. Fortunately, it's up to each owner to decide what they will do, and I'm sure each one makes the best decision for their animals and their own circumstances.

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 goat kids for you for a very reasonable fee. If yours 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 know someone who can.

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

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

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

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

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Sandra said...

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

Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead said...

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.

Sandra said...

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

Anonymous said...

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?

Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead said...

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.

Unknown said...

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!

Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead said...

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

Anonymous said...

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

Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead said...

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.

Janet Pesaturo said...

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?

Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead said...

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.

Monica said...

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!!

Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead said...

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.

daisy g said...

Thanks for sharing today on The Hop!

Kris said...

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.

Kathi said...

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.

Unknown said...

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.

Kathi said...

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.

Unknown said...

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 :)

Kathi said...

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.

betty-NZ said...

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.

Kathi said...

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

Peggy Shepherd said...

How many months old would it still be safe to de-horn? I have a pigmy that is 3 months old.

Kathi said...

Peggy, it depends more on the size of the horns than on the goat's age. It could still be possible. My vet cuts the ends of the horns off - it's like trimming fingernails - then uses the disbudding iron. Ask your local vets and friends if they can do it, or know someone who could. Don't put it off, or it will definitely be too late.

Peggy Shepherd said...

Thank you Kathi!

Kathi said...

You're welcome, Peggy!