Disbudding Goats: Pros and Cons
I love my farm, I really do. It is my dream to do this full time eventually. I love experimenting with what works in our farm and sharing that with friends and readers. But there are some things that I have come to hate about it. Unfortunately, those things can be considered necessary (open for interpretation). One of those things is disbudding the adorable little baby goats.
For those of you that don’t know what disbudding is, it is using a hot iron designed to keep the horns from growing by burning off the horn buds before they begin to take root. Both males and females can develop horns and, while they are part of the natural growth of goats, they can be very dangerous to humans, other goats, and the goat itself. Our first buck, Weller, developed a nice set of horns within a year. Those horns became somewhat dangerous when handling him.
Please note: If you are going to show goats, there are certain breeds that MUST be dehorned and other breeds that are shown with horns.
There is a lot of information about disbudding, some of it is informative, and some of it is not helpful at all. Waiting too long will be harder on the goat, and while there are procedures to dehorn (horns are already grown in) a goat, they are costly, and much more unpleasant than disbudding. A goat healing from a dehorning could take months whereas a disbudding takes only a week or so. The best time to disbud is when the kid is between seven and fourteen days old and you can feel the “nubs” of the horns rising up from the skull (some breeds are slower than others). According to the literature we read, males typically grow faster than females, and we found this to be true as well. We try to disbud our bucklings at a week old if possible, and can wait up to two weeks old for doelings.
This was NOT an easy decision, by any stretch of the imagination, and after watching some videos of the procedure we REALLY did not want to do this. Some of you will decide not to disbud, and that is an entirely personal decision (see pros and cons from other websites above). We read, and reread. We watched videos of it being done, but nothing can prepare you for when you actually do the disbudding. We decided for our farm, we would do this so we purchased a proper disbudding iron designed for goats (DO NOT use one designed for calves as it will be too large) and built a box to hold them in while it was being done (pics of our homemade box below. * I will be posting plans on how to build this box in the near future.
Basil Hayden’s (our tri-color triplet buckling) horns were growing first, so we decided to do him before the others. He was about eight days old. To prepare, we let the iron heat up for about 15 minutes. It has to be red hot (I mean this literally). We shaved the top of his head in order to clearly see the horn buds. We gave him his first shot of CD/T vaccine. We placed him in the box we designed and made for disbudding. Once he was in the box, I proceeded to place the iron on the bud while my partner held his ears and his head (the day before we practiced on a softball and piece of wood to get the feel of it). It was from a top angle sitting on top of the box.
The instructions said to "Make sure the dehorner is red hot and ready to go. Then, wearing your leather gloves, apply the dehorner to the bud for 3-4 seconds, evenly rotating the pressure applied to the tip around the bud. (Note: you are NOT turning the dehorner.)". Only minimal pressure is needed here. Little more than the weight of the dehorner." The goal is to get a “copper” colored ring around the bud to show that the procedure was a success. There are many ways to do this. Our friends had taught us for bucklings, to create a figure 8 pattern as the horn bud can possibly extend further out than the disbudding iron.
Once we achieved the copper rings, we applied a wound spray. There are a few options out there. We really like Alushield. Once we applied the Alushield, we held little Basil and made sure the spray had dried. He was immediately reunited with his worried mother and appeared to be fine.
Within a few minutes he was back to playing with his brothers and seemed no worse for the wear. We both breathed a huge sigh of relief as we watched him play. After this experience, we decided that we consulted our farm vet. Our vet was a wealth of knowledge, and gave us some tips going forward:
Lessons we learned from the vet:
Position and angle of the disbudding iron is important. Some videos and sites showed that the person was sitting on top of the box or held the kid between their legs and disbudding from the top (like I did). Some videos even showed one person doing the procedure. It appears that a more suitable angle is from directly in front while someone holds the kid. This is the position the vet chose as well.
The vet told me that he would generally hold the iron on for a period of up to 3-4 seconds while speaking with him. I was worried about the length of time but he assured me that the skull was quite thick and the sinus cavity differed from that of cattle so the chances of brain damage are slim (he did say that there was still a risk). He did recommend each horn for approximately 3-4 seconds, said to check to see how it looked and then went back and did it for slightly shorter period of time on each horn. He recommended using his fingernail to scrape the little horn bud and it crumbled. He stated that it wasn’t necessary to remove the charred remains of the bud as we had seen others do. A full copper ring had been achieved.
I asked about the extra step required for the males. He said that was not necessary since we were doing this early on. If we had waited any longer we would need to do the extra step as stated in the link above. He then told me that he just had to perform this step a few days ago on an older male.
Most of the sites we read said not to put any ointment on the horn after disbudding. Our vet recommended Alushild or Blue Koat.
We asked about giving a CD/T shot (tetanus). Some sites will tell you that you need to give your kid this shot before the procedure if the dam had not received it before freshening. We decided to do the CD/T shot because this is a metal iron.
They will scream, and scream A LOT, and you will feel bad….VERY BAD (the vet even mentioned feeling badly about it), but each one bounced back quickly. We were very pleased with the results and the goats were out playing out in the field within minutes.
We hope that our experiences will help those who are contemplating disbudding and that some can learn from what we share. We now feel comfortable that if we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have much other choice we can do the disbudding ourselves.