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Goats – horns or no horns? That is a very controversial question right now. Honestly, though, it’s an entirely personal decision. You have to do your own research and decide for yourself whether you want your goats to have horns or not. Goat disbudding is the most widely used method of removing horns from goats.
First off, I want to point out that I’m not an expert on goat horns. We have had goats for about a year and a half now, and have had some with horns and some without. We STILL haven’t made a firm decision on whether or not we want our goats to have horns. So this post is an abridgment of all of the research I have made myself to try to make the decision easier on our family. Hopefully it will be objective enough, with little prejudice, so it can help you with the decision for your goats.
Goat horn basics
Almost all goats, unless they’re polled (which means that through special breeding, they will never get horns), will have horns unless you disbud them. Goat disbudding is the act of cutting and burning off the horn nubs that start growing when the goat kid is very young. Goat kids can start getting horn nubs within their first or second week. Most experts suggest disbudding within the first 10 days.
Dehorning is an option for older goats that still have horns, but it is a delicate procedure that usually needs to be done by a vet. And it’s not even successful a lot of the time. Goat horns have blood vessels that run through their horns, so when you remove them, there can be a lot of blood. Dehorning is really not a good procedure to have done to your goat.
I have read that some people have had success in banding the horns of an older goat (much like castration banding, you just put a specialized rubber band around the base of the horn). Banding can take several weeks for the horns to fall off, and I’m not entirely sure of the goat’s comfort level during this extended time period.
Goat horn pros:
Horns help dissipate heat
Goats don’t sweat, so a lot of heat escapes through their horns. Goats that don’t have horns will pant more when it’s hot, than goats that do have horns. If you live in a hot climate, it may make more sense to allow your goats to have horns, if for nothing else, heat management.
Horns are good for protection
Goats with horns are more equipped to protect themselves from some predators. Of course, it won’t deter or prevent some predator attacks, but having horns does give the goat a little more of an edge.
Horns make good handles
If you have a skiddish goat, having horns to use for handles can be a good thing. We have re-homed a few goats with horns, and the new owners used the horns to help tie them up in their truck for a short transport. Maybe not the greatest idea, but it did work!
Horns are more natural
Goats were meant to have horns. That is how they were created naturally. It’s the way God intended. Even if you don’t take that into consideration, think of natural selection. Survival of the fittest. Evolution. Whatever you want to call it. Goats were made (or evolved, if you’d rather) to have horns. So it stands to reason that having horns is what’s best for goats. The question of horns or no horns is more about what is best for the goat owner.
Horns look majestic
Let’s face it, goats with horns look pretty darn cool. But, as we all know, appearance isn’t everything!!
Goat disbudding or dehorning is unpleasant
Disbudding or dehorning is a painful procedure for the goat. He will cry and scream while it’s being done. Disbudding is smelly and unpleasant. Even so, sometimes what is best is to put the goat through a little discomfort in order to save him or you from some longer-term ill effects.
Goat horn cons:
Show goats can’t have horns
If you are going to show your goats at all, they can’t have horns. The official reasoning on it is that they don’t want any injuries due to goat horns. It might be for appearances as well, but the risk of injuries is the biggest factor for show goats. Disbudding your goats is necessary if you want to sell your purebred animals to people for show or for 4H.
Horns can get stuck
Sometimes, goats with horns can get themselves stuck in fences. Goats love to show us that the grass is greener on the other side. Some hay feeders pose a danger to horned goats for this exact reason. We had a hanging hay net for our goats and came home one day to find one of our goat’s horns stuck in the hay net. She was terrified! If we hadn’t seen it soon enough, she could have seriously injured herself, or even died because of it. When a goat is stuck, they panic and can overheat, or get dehydrated from not being able to get to their water. Goat disbudding helps to avoid this issue.
Horns can break
Sometimes goat horns break, and this is extremely painful for the goat. Goat horns are made of hair, blood vessels, and nerves. If a horn breaks, it will bleed a lot. The broken part will hurt when he rubs or bumps it on something. Then your goat will probably have to go through a dehorning procedure in order to “finish it off”. Dehorning usually involves a vet, heavy sedation, a big bill, and an unhappy goat.
Goats with horns can injure you or your children
If a goat is afraid or aggressive, they can use their horns against you. Even mellow, friendly goats can inadvertently hurt you with their horns. Most often it would be an accident, but some horned goats realize what they’ve got and can use it to their advantage. Bucks in rut are the biggest offenders of using their horns maliciously. For this reason, goat disbudding, especially on bucks, is an important thing for goat owners to consider.
Goats with horns can injure other goats
Some goats will use their horns as weapons against other goats. Luckily we haven’t had any injuries yet, but you should always be aware of the risk. One of our horned goats will purposely toss her horns at the other goats to keep them out of the shared feed. Most goat dairies practice goat disbudding on all their goats to avoid injuries to their goats’ valuable udders.
It is important to note that if you have a mixed herd of horned and hornless goats, the ones without horns can be at a disadvantage. They will be less able to protect themselves from the horned goats, as well as predators. This can sometimes result in the hornless goats being bullied by the others, often resulting in the hornless goats not getting enough to eat.
Disbudding baby goats
Disbudding is a pretty safe procedure, as long as you know what you’re doing or have someone experienced to help you. There are some risks, however.
Disbudding uses a cauterizing tool to burn the horn bud, then some kind of clippers or knife to cut the horn off, then cauterizing again. A healing salve is typically placed on the site the next day to encourage healing.
Risks of disbudding
If you don’t have the goat properly restrained (you can buy or make a disbudding box pretty easily), you could burn him in other areas besides the horn bud. Or he could bump you and you could burn yourself or your partner.
If you hold the hot iron on the horn buds for too long, you run the risk of overheating the skull and potentially giving the goat brain damage or even causing death. If the procedure isn’t done correctly, you could end up with your goat having scurs. Scurs are partial horns that can grow back after disbudding or dehorning. Scurs are only attached to the skin instead of the skull, and will sometimes fall off and cause bleeding. Like horns, scurs will continue to grow, and can sometimes dig into the skull or eyes if left unchecked.
Of course disbudding is unpleasant. The goat will cry and scream, but usually more from being restrained than the pain of the procedure. Disbudding is smelly, and you’ll likely feel bad for putting your babies through it, but they won’t hold it against you. I have heard that within a few minutes they will be up running around, wagging their tails and playing like nothing even happened.
If you choose to disbud, you should ask for a local goat owner for help in doing it at least the first time. Sign up for a local livestock Facebook group to help you find someone who can help. These groups are an amazing resource, literally right at your fingertips! People are there to gain and share knowledge, make like-minded friends, and get advice. I definitely recommend Facebook groups!
Here is a great video showing how to properly disbud your goat kids.
So, should you disbud your goats?
No one can answer this question but you! It is an entirely personal decision. Whichever you choose, you need to be confident in that position, because inevitably, you will come across some people who think your way is wrong.
I will tell you that through my research, I am leaning toward disbudding my goats. Still have to talk to the family about it, but it needs to be done soon for our goats if we’re going to do it! We currently have 4 baby goats, but we’re not keeping all of them. I’m a little torn as to whether or not to disbud the ones we will be selling. But for the most part, it seems like most goat owners prefer no horns. So I have to take that into consideration as well.
Do you prefer horns or no horns? Do you disbud your goats? I might be stirring up trouble asking this question, but let me have it! I need more ammunition to discuss with my family. Please share in the comments below!