My original post on disbudding dairy goats detailed the methods and tools we used for removing horns from our goat kids when we first started with Nigerian Dwarf goats. This original method utilizes a disbudding box (there are plans for a disbudding box HERE) and an electric disbudding iron.
We later learned better methods (in our opinion) and tools for disbudding our goats that I wrote a separate post on. In this method, we wrap the kids in a towel to control them and use a gas disbudding iron.
When properly performed, both methods work, so I’ve combined them here into one post. The original method is described first, followed by the newer method. Pictures showing the process are included with the newer method so be sure to scroll down to see them even if you’re using the original method.
Why Disbud (Remove Horns) Dairy Goats?
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 on 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, hay 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 kid’s skull (bucks generally need to be done sooner than does). The idea is to cauterize the area surrounding the horn bud. That way blood can’t flow to the horns and make them grow.
The Original Disbudding Method (using a disbudding box & electric disbudding iron)
Preparation and Equipment for Disbudding Goats
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 dairy goats; a popular one for Dwarf Nigerians and the one that we used is the Rhinehart X50 fit with the 3/4” outer diameter tip (see photo below).
How Disbudding Is Done
It’s best to learn how to disbud by actually watching someone experienced perform it a few times. I’m not sure we could have done it if we hadn’t observed it several times. And, saw the kids bounce back minutes after it was done.
I don’t think anyone enjoys doing it, but the method described below is how we were originally shown to do it. It does work (I’m sure there are many variations on this method that work) although we prefer the newer method outlined later in this post.
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. This helps prevent damage to the kid’s brain from overheating.
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 overuse the gel ice pack. But, we like to make sure the kid’s head is cold after burning or re-burning.
Finishing Up After Disbudding Goats
After we’ve verified that a full copper ring has been achieved, the horn buds have popped off, and the kid’s 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 from mom. 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!
The Newer Disbudding Method (using a towel & gas-powered disbudding iron)
Thanks to some mentoring from Old Mountain Farm, we switched to a method that uses an Express gas-powered disbudding iron and we simply wrap the goat kids securely in a towel to hold them. Warning – the photos below show the process, and might make some uncomfortable.
Because the Express iron is gas-powered, it gets much hotter than the Rhinehart iron and the Express has a much finer tip than the Rhinehart. This means that the Express very quickly cuts through the flesh and actually transfers less heat to the goat kid’s head (this is good because too much heat can damage their brain).
We found that NOT using a disbudding box and just wrapping the kids securely in a towel resulted in much less thrashing around for the kids. It’s still traumatic for them for a few seconds, but holding them in the towel seems much less stressful for them.
Here’s a photo of the Express iron along with the gas cylinder that powers it:
The process we use for disbudding these days is described below.
Step 1: Restrain the goat kid.
Note: Tetanus prevention and a Banamine shot should still be done as described above in the original method.
Position the kid comfortably on the towel with his/her legs tucked beneath.
Bring up one side of the towel and wrap, bring up the other side of the towel and wrap, and then fold the excess in the back underneath the kid. The towel should form a fairly tight cocoon that will hold the kid in place.
Step 2: Prepare the goat kid’s head.
Shave the hair off the head in the area surrounding the horn buds on both sides.
Step 3: Disbud the goat kid.
Make sure the iron is hot – you can test it on a piece of wood first.
Apply the iron to the head around the horn bud – it takes just a few seconds to burn through the skin to the skull. You learn to “feel” when this has happened, but it’s always better to start with less time so that you don’t do permanent damage. You can always reburn again. Remember that too much heat can damage the kid’s brain or could even be fatal.
Apply a cold pack to the area after burning to cool it off.
A copper-colored “burned” ring should extend all the way around the horn bud.
Step 4: Remove the horn bud.
Use small pliers to remove the horn bud by gently pulling it off.
There may be a little blood – it usually stops pretty quickly or you can use the hot iron to cauterize any areas that are bleeding by lightly touching the edge of the iron to the area that is bleeding.
If you feel the piece that was removed from the goat kid’s head, you will feel the actual horn bud inside.
Step 5: Repeat for the other side & apply Woundkote.
Disbud the other side using the same process.
Spray on wound-kote to protect the wounds and aid in the healing process.
Return to Mom – the goat kids generally go straight for a drink of milk and seem no worse for the whole process.
Find A Mentor
I strongly recommend that you observe someone disbudding goats before trying this on your own. It’s not a fun process and can be deadly for the goat kid if done incorrectly.
Most folks we know still use the Rhinehart and a disbudding box, but this process (with the Express iron & towel) has been less stressful and traumatic. We still don’t enjoy disbudding goats, but this process makes it a little easier. Disbudding is also why we prefer polled goats.
To learn more about goat kids and horns, read What Are Polled Goats, How To Tell Whether Baby Goats Are Polled or Horned, and Getting Goats – Horned, Polled, or Disbudded?