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Pros and Cons of Disbudding Your Goat

To disbud or not to disbud, that’s a controversial question. It seems that every goat owner has a strong opinion for or against goats with horns. Disbudding, the procedure to burn of the horn buds off of goat kids, is not a pleasant procedure. Every time we disbudded our cute little goat kids we would ask ourselves, Is this necessary?

Disbudding, the procedure of burning off the horns, is unpleasant. Every time we disbudded our goat kids we would ask ourselves, Is this necessary?

When we first purchased goats, we lived on a small acreage and we chose Nigerian Dwarf goats. We wanted our kids to be able to be in the pen with the goats and not feel intimidated so we chose small a small breed. That also meant goats with no horns. When our goats had kids, we chose disbudding for them. That was our stance until last summer, our first summer on our homestead in Missouri. We went from backyard goat owners to farmers overnight. We kept our little dairy herd that we had on our acreage, but also added a separate herd of meat goats. The meat goats did have horns and I was nervous about handling them. I didn’t need to worry, all of our goats have a sweet nature and the horns have not been a problem. We decided to re-evaluate the pros and cons of goat horns.

What Goat Horns Do

Regulate Temperature

Goat horns have a lot of blood vessels in them that help the goats regulate their body temperature in the heat. Without horns, the goats have to resort to panting to cool off. If you live in an area with hot summers, a goat with horns will be better able to tolerate the temperatures.

Protection from Predators

A goat with horns has a way to protect themselves. Granted, a goat doesn’t have much of a chance if it’s up against a mountain lion or coyote, horns or no horns. But the horns would give them a chance to fight back. We rely on a livestock dog to help protect our goats.

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Avoids the Disbudding Procedure

The disbudding process involves holding a hot iron around the horn buds to burn them off. Knowledge on how to perform this procedure safely is essential. If you hold the iron on the goat’s head for too long, brain damage can occur. On the other hand, if the hot iron isn’t held to the head long enough, scurs can form.

Scurs occur when the horn tissue isn’t properly burned off during disbudding and the horns continue to grow. Normally they don’t cause any problems, other than looking unsightly. Occasionally the scurs will start to grow back towards the goat’s head, which could harm the goat and requires a vet to cut off the offending scur. Don’t attempt to cut off a scur on your own. Like a full horn, a scur contains a lot of blood vessels and you may have a bloody mess. You can disbud your own goats, but find an experienced person (farmer or vet) to teach you the correct procedure first.

Can Be a Handle

When you need the goats to go into the barn or move them into another pen, grabbing a horn is certainly convenient! However, if you have tame goats, this isn’t really much of an issue.

Look Cool

There is the coolness factor to see a goat with horns. They look regal and majestic!

Disbudding, the procedure of burning off the horns, is unpleasant. Every time we disbudded our goat kids we would ask ourselves, Is this necessary?

Goat Horn Concerns

Safety of People

Goats with horns are intimidating! A tame goat with a sweet disposition will be sweet with or without horns if they have been treated well. On the other hand, a scared or  wild goat is very unpredictable. Our goats have never butted us. I have only seen bucks become aggressive towards people and try to head butt them. Of course girls can be ornery too, but in my experience bucks are the ones to watch out for.

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Handling goats with horns is a lot more challenging than those without. My husband nearly got hit in the eye with a horn tip while helping me trim goat hooves. It wasn’t intentional, the goat was new to us and scared. My husband happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully all was well, but that experience did make us more cautious when handling our horned goats.

Safety of Other Goats in the Herd

Goats have a hierarchy in their herd and they work constantly to be the head goat. That involves a lot of head butting and at times aggressive behavior towards one another. This is normal behavior but goats can get injured in the process, especially if they have a low status in the herd. I have heard stories of a horn ripping another goat’s udder, with devastating results. That is why many dairy goat owners are disbudding their goats.

Having a mixed herd is a safety concern as well. The horned goats know how to use their horns and will use them to get the best hay, the first drink, to be first out of the barn door, anything. The disbudded goats are at an unfair advantage and are noticeably at a lower status in the herd than the horned goats. The disbudded goats try to stay out of the horned goats way. Our buck has horns, but our dairy girls do not. He doesn’t hesitate to use his horns to get the best food, especially if alfalfa is involved. When he has done his duties for the year and goes back to his own pen, our dairy girls all seem to sigh a breath of relief.

Getting Horns Caught in the Fence

This is a real problem. Goats put their heads through the the fence to get a bit of grass  and then they’re stuck. We have helped goats get their heads out of fences countless times. It isn’t always easy getting them unstuck either! As long as the goat is stuck, it’s vulnerable to predators, or other goats taking advantage of this situation and pummeling the poor stuck goat. Goat owners get pretty resourceful in preventing this problem. Tennis balls over the horn tips, even plastic pipes across the span of the horns. Anything to prevent a goat from getting stuck! We have found that electric fence prevents this issue quite well.

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Showing Your Goat

If you plan to take your goat to goat shows, many require that the goat be disbudded for the safety of the handler, the other goats at the show and the goat itself. I haven’t been interested in showing any of my goats, so I’m more concerned about good milk lines.

Since we live in a hot, humid climate and have a lot of open spaces, we decided to give horned goats a try. I was quite happy to avoid disbudding our goat kids this past year. But it all really depends on your situation and your personal preference. A backyard goat owner will have a different opinion on disbudding than a goat owner on a large property. There is no right or wrong way, just go out and get some goats!

Disbudding, the procedure of burning off the horns, is unpleasant. Every time we disbudded our goat kids we would ask ourselves, Is this necessary?

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Janelle and her husband are building a permaculture farm in the Missouri Ozarks. They blog about learning to live a sustainable lifestyle, including growing all of their own food and living off­grid. You can read about their adventures at Homestead in the Holler.

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— 1 Comment

  1. I raised meat goats with horns and agree with all the pros of having horns. However after switching to Nigierians and facing the great horn debate I have chosen to dehorn. Within just the first year I had two goats gored by another. Had a leg broken on a young kid who a goat with horns accidently caught his leg between horns and snapped it. And when attempting to restrain a horned goat I received severe bruising on my legs from her horns digging into my legs. I don’t talk down to anyone who chooses to keep horns (as I have been) but for me the biggest concern was injury. My goats are quite valuable and it is not worth it to risk a life threatening injury. And we all kniw how expensive vet bills are!

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