Goat Horns: to Disbud or Not to Disbud?

Disbudding goat kids can be a hotly-debated topic.

Should you disbud (dehorn) your goat kids?

Goat 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, but most dairy goats 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. 

On the other hand, owners who don't show goats can do as they wish when it comes to their 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. He was a well-mannered goat and I didn't mind that he 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 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.

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. We no longer had the horned buck and the market does were sold as soon as our daughter left for college.

How goats are disbudded

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 kids 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.

Some disbudded goat kids can develop scurs, a mis-developed horn growth that usually isn't attached to the goat's skull. 

Alternative ways to remove a goat's horns

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

I don't recommend using caustic horn paste. 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 tight band so the horn will [hopefully] fall off eventually. 

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.

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. 

Goat kid after being disbudded.

In the photo above you can see the rings on Firefly's head from being disbudded. 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.

Do horns have a purpose?

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 then 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.

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

Some goats are polled. Polled goats lack the genetics for horns. 

However, this isn't the solution to the problem. 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 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. 

Fortunately, we have the freedom to make that decision for ourselves. I'm sure we all make the best decision for our animals and for our 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 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 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.

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

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

  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.

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

  4. Anonymous7:20 AM

    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?

  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.

  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!

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

  8. Anonymous4:34 PM

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

  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.

  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?

  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.

  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!!

  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.

  14. Thanks for sharing today on The Hop!

  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.

    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.

  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.

    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.

  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 :)

    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.

  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.

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

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

    1. 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.

  20. Give Me Faith Farm3:21 PM

    I guess I understand people being passionate about both sides but in my case, I leave the horns on because they are there for protection and body temp. control, plus I think they are beautiful. Most of my goats are very conscious of where their horns are and other than the odd mishap, haven't ever had a problem. I can also appreciate those who want to disbud, for shows or safety around children, etc. What I don't agree with is breeding for polled goats. It sounds good in theory but the genetic flaws that create a hornless goat are also responsible for creating fertility issues or hermaphrodite goats. It's the same reasoning why I can't stand the fainting goat. God would never create a goat that fainted when startled. They would be extinct in a hot minute, obviously. Poor breeding creates a mutation, people think it's cute and continue it. Not my thing, I'm afraid.


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