On Disbudding Kids

Most of us recognize the image of a horned goat. But disbudding goats (or, preventing the horns from growing) is a common practice for those on all sides of the goat-raising business. In the wild, they’re necessary for defense. The argument is that they are not necessary, and even dangerous, in captivity.

This is for a variety of reasons: they can be injure themselves, other goats, and their caretakers, too, ranging from getting caught in fences and breaking a neck in panic (since goats like to stick their heads in EVERYTHING) to accidentally gouging out your eye if you’re too close and they pull their head back too fast. It is also a very bad idea to house horned and de-horned goats together, as the de-horned goats will often get injured with the unequal playing field.

Also, it’s a requirement to have a goat de-horned in any sort of showing capacity. I don’t know if a kid will be barred from being registered if they have horns, but they won’t be allowed in the show ring.

(^Beltane and Inanna napping both Before and After disbudding, in a box in my car^)

On the other side of this argument is how inhumane the de-horning process is. There are several ways to disbud, but the most common way to do it (and the easiest, most humane and fast method) is by using a disbudding iron. A hot disbudding iron is taken and pressed on newly-starting horn buds, cauterizing the nerves and veins that supply blood for horn growth. It doesn’t harm the kid beyond stopping the horns from growing and pain, and if you do it correctly, it shouldn’t be longer than 10 seconds. But they do yell. It’s painful. No one enjoys the process.

There is also the consideration that a goat’s horns is their natural protection. If you take these away, you need to supply something to protect them in return.

You should decide if you will be de-horning fairly quickly after a kid is born, because the most humane time to de-horn is within the first few weeks of age. This is when the horns are just starting to appear as little nubs on top of their heads, before the horns have created roots that attach to the skull. Each breed of goat has a slightly different horn grow rate, so you should pay attention. Once you can clearly feel (and see, if you part the hair) the horn buds, it’s time. Earlier is better.

If the horns get bigger, the process to disbud becomes longer, more painful, and tedious. And if the horns develop fully (and attach to the skull) de-horning becomes a major surgery with a likelihood of complications.

I recommend finding an experienced goat owner in your community to teach you how to do it (or, if you’re squeamish, to pay them to do it). There are also many YouTube videos on it, if you don’t have someone to teach you.

This video is a great PG-rated one for getting your feet wet on the subject (I also appreciate how considerate they are for the little kid):

Notice how little time it takes.

Here is a more involved video showing the whole process and going into the details of the reasons and considerations: 

I don’t give shots against tetanus beforehand like the video above (because I avoid shots as much as possible, and because I’ve never had a kid contract tetanus from disbudding before), though the antiseptic doesn’t sound like a half-bad idea.

The key components about disbudding you should keep in mind:

  1. Buck kid horns will grow faster than doelings; pay attention to your kids and try to get them disbudded as soon as a bud can be clearly felt.
  2. Trimming the hair around the buds not only helps with seeing what you’re doing, but makes the contact time needed with the iron time much shorter, and prevents the terrible burning hair smell.
  3. Always make sure the iron is HOT. It makes the process accurate and MUCH faster, which the kid will really appreciate.
  4. Restrain the kid so s/he won’t thrash around. Some people just “sit” on the kid like the first video, and others use the box. Whatever you decide, you don’t want to accidentally burn anything besides the horn bud.
  5. Copper is the color you’re looking for, all around the base of where the bud is growing.

My method is to pay a lady in my community to do it, not only because I hate doing it (though no one likes it), but because I’m helping her out while I’m at it. (Also, I used to help disbud 120+ kids a year and it’s a relief just to let someone else do it).

Any questions? Comments? Advice or crazy story to add? What’s your method?


Author: DairyGoatDiaries

Goats have been in my life for 13 years now -- and I've enjoyed every (often aggravating) second. Beyond basic care and management, I'll be sharing humorous stories and bits and bobs of advice I've collected over the years. Follow me for good info -- or just for fun. Bonus: pictures of baby goats!

3 thoughts on “On Disbudding Kids”

  1. We just took two of our boys (1.5 weeks old) to have this done last week to another farm who did a great job. They used the hot iron, and it is a really painful process.

    On the other hand, we adopted two boys last year who still had horns, who were aggressive and would get stuck in the fence. It is a tough argument either way, but we went with de-horning.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s