A lot of people are surprised to learn that goats naturally grow horns; and, that many consider horns a detriment so they’re frequently removed when the goats are babies – this process is known as “disbudding”. Horns in goats are generally considered detrimental because:
1. Horns get stuck in things, and can cause the goats to injure themselves
2. Goats with horns can hurt each other when they “play” butt each other
3. Horns can hurt people
4. Horns can cause damage to fences, barns, mangers, etc.
5. People generally prefer hornless goats so they’re worth more
6. Horns can break, and a goat can bleed to death from a broken horn
7. Goats generally can’t be shown in 4H or goat shows if they have horns
The disbudding process isn’t difficult, but it’s painful to the baby goat (kid) for the few seconds it takes to perform the operation. It’s generally done at 3 – 10 days old, depending on when the horn bud breaks through the kids skull (bucks generally need to be done sooner than does) – the idea is to cauterize the area surrounding the horn bud so that blood can’t flow to the horns and make them grow.
The procedure is done by either putting the kid out or confining the kid (usually using a disbudding box – see Ruby in the disbudding box above); and placing a hot iron around the horn bud for several seconds. There are several specialty irons made for disbudding; a popular one for Dwarf Nigerians and the one that we use is the Rhinehart X50 fit with the 3/4” outer diameter tip (see photo below).
It’s best to learn how-to disbud by actually watching someone experienced do it a few times – I’m not sure we could have done it if we hadn’t observed several times – and seen the kids bounce back minutes after it was done. I don’t think anyone enjoys doing it, but the method described below is what we were shown and it seems to be working (I’m sure there are many variations on this method that work).
Prior to disbudding, the kid should be given 1 cc of tetanus anti-toxin if its dam didn’t receive her CDT shot in the month before freshening (if she did, then the kid should already have the tetanus antibodies). We also like to give them a .05 ml shot of banamine to help minimize inflammation.
We then shave the hair around the horn buds to make sure they’re clearly visible, make sure the kid is as comfortable as possible in the disbudding box, verify the disbudding iron is hot (test it on a piece of wood), and apply the iron for 4 – 8 seconds depending on the size of the horn bud. Immediately after applying the iron, we apply a gel-ice pack over the burnt area to cool it and prevent damage to the kid’s brain.
We’ve found that it’s important to verify that there’s a copper colored ring around the entire horn bud, and that the top of the horn bud is popped off after burning. If the top of the bud isn’t popped off, it’s difficult to tell whether the horn is still growing as time goes on, and scurs (parts of the horn continue to grow) can develop. If a full copper ring hasn’t been achieved or the bud hasn’t popped off, it’s necessary to re-burn the area, but it’s important to make sure that there’s no heat build-up so the kid isn’t hurt (kids can die as a result of heat build-up or improper disbudding). We probably overdue the gel ice-pack, but we like to make sure the kids head is cold after burning or re-burning.
After we’ve verified that a full copper ring has been achieved, the horn buds have popped off, and the kids head is cool; we immediately coat the area with Wound-Kote – making sure to cover the kid’s eyes while applying so no Wound-Kote gets in their eyes. Then the kid is released from the disbudding box and returned to its dam – the kid generally shakes its head a few times and then gets a drink (if they’re being bottle raised then it would make sense to give them a bottle at this point). The kids all seem to be back to normal within about 10 minutes of being disbudded, and we’ve got horn-free goats!