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Horns? Dis-bud? Polled?

Horned, Dis-Budded, and Polled Goats

Goat keepers have strong opinions about leaving horns intact or disbudding.

Those that are showing goats will follow the guidelines for their breed. Meat goats are left with their horns, dairy goats are disbudded. The majorities of goat keepers however, are not showing and simply have their goats for pets, meat, milk and fiber. Many who ask the question “should I or not” will be bombarded with passionate replies.

The purpose of this page is to give you an idea of advantages and disadvantages, our experiences, and those of our friends. Because meat goats are left with their horns intact and very few pet owners have them disbudded the focus will be mostly on the dairy goat breeds.

Outside of the show world many goat owners have dairy breeds with horns. Yes, they will still produce milk with horns. Many have said it is because of the close proximity in milking parlors that disbudding practices were first started. I don’t know if there is truth in that or not but disbudding has become common practice in dairy goat breeds.

We have not been “pro” disbudding, we have always liked horns. Horns are great handles and can make moving or grabbing a goat quickly, quite easy. Having polled goats and disbudded goats, we have to always have a lead and collar to move them and grabbing one quickly… not happening. Having 100-250 lb meat goats horns are a MUST. Goats have had horns for thousands of years. We tend to want our goats to live as naturally as possible. We have also over time grown to have a better understanding of some of the disadvantages of having horned goats.

Having several Nigerian Bucks that were not properly or thoroughly disbudded by their breeders, we have experienced scurs. Some scurs were loose and would get knocked off causing a bloody mess when the goats would spar. Some scurs were not really scurs at all but more like short thick horns. These scurs are cut back with a gigli wire as they tend to grow out and curl inward toward the face. Scurs are much more common in bucks. We have found scurs to be a nuisance and truthfully… a bit unsightly.

Our polled goats we love! No disbudding drama, no scurs, no horns, but also no handles.
We have not seen any real difference in disposition amongst our polled goats as far as compatibility with other goats but we have noticed they seem a bit sweeter with us. We have polled goats from four different lines and all are definitely more loving than those with horns.

Our goats are never aggressive towards us with their horns and we have never had any real issues. However, some of the horned does can be a bit snotty with other goats. Some have been belligerent to the livestock guardian dogs. We have seen with both dairy and meat goat fling a kid. We were given a buck for meat one time because the buck was very aggressive when a doe was in heat. This buck was a mixed breed, Nigerian crossed with something much larger. This buck was pretty big and although very sweet normally, if a doe was in heat he would shred fences and become human aggressive. While the buck was here awaiting to go to the processor we had a doe go into heat… long story short the buck attacked one of the family members and it took 2 very strong adult teens to pull the buck off. It was an extremely dangerous situation.
Our very large meat goat bucks that have huge spiraling horns have never had any aggression at any time toward any human.

Because we have a mixed herd of polled, horned, and disbudded goats we have been able to see if there is any difference. Our polled goats will readily spar (playful-not fighting) with a horned goat. We have not seen a horned hierarchy. Our Kiko Meat Goats have huge spiraling horns, our Nigerians are either disbudded (but with scurs) or polled. These bucks all play with each other and the larger horned meat goats definitely “take it easy” on the little guys. Although we have had a leg get stuck between the Kiko’s horns and caused injury. One of our polled does took on a very large Kiko doe that was in the field temporarily (a few hours while fencing was being repaired) and was vying for “position”… the polled girl was the only goat to defend the territory and the other nigies.

I cannot tell you how many times we have had to pull a head out of the fencing. Thankfully we have never lost a goat. We do have friends that have though. Sadly they have come home from work and found their goat hung up and it was too late. We have had one doe that was stuck and another doe took the opportunity to show the goat who was boss. Our sheep will ram goats that are stuck. Our Livestock Guardians really stress when a goat is stuck… to the point of trying to pull the fencing back with their teeth.
This is a really big DISADVANTAGE to having horned goats. If you want horns PLEASE install 2x4 no climb fencing!

As our numbers have continually increased we do NOT like the horns very much. When you have a dozen goats or more around you and half are horned and you are bringing in feed etc they can really crowd you. The pushing and shoving and the goat that will “jump back” suddenly has caused us to really watch out. We have had a horn hit into a leg, come close to our face, and just with the amount of goats it can get pretty sketchy. None of the girls have ever tried to hurt us but accidents can happen.

When our mini mancha was born we decided NO WAY! LAMANCHAS SHOULD NOT HAVE HORNS! They are very smart and mischievous… they can really get themselves into trouble. Although we had disbudded goats we had never disbudded any of our own. We had a fellow herder who graciously offered to do the disbudding but DH felt we should have the doeling sedated for the procedure. I wasn’t sure one way or another. One of our vets sedated her, then gave a nerve block under each brow and did the disbudding. There was no drama, no shock, and the doeling felt no pain of the iron burning her head. When she woke up she bounced around like a normal baby goat, no worse for the experience, ran to momma suckled and went on being a kid.

Nigerian Dwarfs are a favorite amongst families. Many with young children prefer the dwarf as they are small, friendly, and far less intimidating to ‘little people’. This is something to really consider as the horns can be right at face level with younger children and your goat may certainly never intentionally try to hurt your children but all it takes is a quick turn around, a sudden head movement and your child can lose an eye. Not trying to be overly dramatic, but realistic. When goat numbers increase your odds of injury will increase.

~ We have many people that want horned goats, they do not want them disbudded. Sometimes they have all horned goats and want all new additions to be horned. Some feel it is simply wrong or inhumane to disbud. Some have no problem with disbudded goats but do not want to have to deal with any potential scurs.

~ If you are waiting on a breeding you will need to let your breeder know your preference. Some breeders who automatically disbud may want a deposit or goat paid in full beforehand if you request the goat to have the horns left intact. Some breeders that do not practice disbudding may agree to disbud but require you to select who will do the disbudding and expect you to be responsible for the cost involved for method used.

Breeders, Veterinarians, and Livestock Extension Agents will do disbudding.

Disbudding procedures vary from breeder to breeder, vet to vet, and ext. agents to ext agents. Is one better than another? Not necessarily. We have seen breeders that have been disbudding for years and have excellent results, others the does turn out well but their bucks always have scurs. We have seen veterinarians do good and bad jobs. Extension agents can also be hit or miss.

Bucklings generally will need to be disbudded in a matter of days after birth, doelings can take be up to 3 weeks. Breed and growth determine when to dis-bud. Males horns tend to come in and start growing very quickly, some will need dis-budded at days 5-10 others later.
Disbudding is the process of burning the bud.
Bucklings are burned differently from doelings. Those methods, again will vary by the one doing the disbudding. Some do 2 figure 8’s others do 2 burns and go across the top, and others use buck tips. Some disbud the bucks no differently than does and that generally results in scurs.

Many that disbud do so without any anesthetic. The iron heats to a range of 900-950 degrees. Many simply cannot afford to pay for sedation for the multiple kids needing the disbudding. Many will tell you that once the iron is applied the kid goes into a bit of shock and doesn’t really feel it. We have also heard many say the kids just don’t want their head messed with and scream just as much when the hair is shaved off prior to the disbudding.

There are arguments on both sides about the different methods.
Some say that it is more dangerous if the kid is sedated as it could possibly get overburned, heat the skull and the kid could die. There are arguments about the safety of sedation on such a small young animal. Many feel it is important to get the kid back to mom right away to nurse and that doesn’t happen with sedation.
Many feel there is no need for sedation… it is quick and over with and far less risk by not using sedation. It is also very cost prohibitive for most.
Because sedation requires are veterinarian to do the sedating and procedure there is less chance of overburning and death. The kid feels no pain and by the time the kid is awake you are home (if taken to the practice) and will quickly respond to mom. There is no shock or trauma involved and often the buds are also scooped out which means less chance of scurs.

We have opted to have any goat needing disbudded to be sedated and disbudded by a veterinarian. There are several reasons for this. The first is the sedation. We prefer our kids to be sedated. No matter how you look at it, putting a 900 degree hot iron to the buds/skull of a kid is painful. All of us at one time or another have been burned by a hot pan, fireplace, curling iron etc… it hurts and usually it is only a fleeting moment not nearly as long as it takes to burn a kid, at the bare minimum of 2 ‘rings’. Second, usually your veterinarian will re burn or fix a disbudding that was not successful and the kid is growing scurs.
Our vet comes to the farm, however if we needed to take the kid in we would have plenty of time to return home while the kid is waking up and the moment the kid is up… it is nursing from momma.
We have a small farm with only a few kids born in any given season so this works for us.

It doesn’t mean it is the “right way” or the “best way” it is just what we have chosen and it works well for us.

We like having the polled genetics in our dairy goats. We have focused on the polled genetics because we still do not like having to do disbudding. There is still some controversy over the polled genetics causing hermaphrodites. Studies done in the 1930’s-1940’s caused many to abandon the polled goats altogether. More recent studies believe it is a separate gene causing the hermaphroditism and it happened to be from polled stock, not because the animal was polled. Recent studies show horned/horned, horned/polled, and polled/polled breedings to have no significant difference in hermaphrodite occurrence. Typically many breed h/p or h/h however there are many breeders working on p/p breedings.

Below is the article that started a great deal of controversy regarding the polled genetics… it is from the 1940’s! It did a great deal of damage to the breeding of polled goats.

Many are working more and more with the polled genetics and are seeing great results!
Polled goats will have rounded nubs under the skin.

When disbudding there will be a percentage of goats that will grow scurs. This does not mean that the disbudder was inept. Scurs can happen! Ask the person doing the disbudding (whether it is a vet, an ext agent, or breeder) their methods. Bucklings are the most difficult so make sure you understand if it is 2 burns and across the top, 4 burns( 2 figure 8's), male tips or another method. Sometimes scurs can be taken care of if caught soon enough.

If leaving horns intact is your preference make sure you are aware of exactly how large the horns will grow. As cute kids with little itty bitty horns it doesn’t seem like a big deal, look up and see what that adult goat at 3-5 years will look like with those horns. This can help you in your decision.

Mini Mancha sedated, areas shaved, and nerve block given below both brows.
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Procedure completed, and an antiseptic and "cool" spray applied.
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You can see the "copper color" and also it was scooped out.
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She woke up about 20 minutes later and went right to mom.
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These two both have scurs. One has loose scurs that simply get knocked off. The other has more horn like scurs. The ones that knock off easily bleed terribly. His blood is on the other goat.
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Horn like scurs have grown very thick and one has started to curl into the face

Removal of the bad scur was done with a gigli wire. It is very fast and takes about 10 seconds.
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There is a small dot where the scur was removed, this is a blood vessel. That is why the horn should not be completely removed, only to where the issue is resolved and the scur poses no problem.
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Removed scur
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Actual Dehorning Procedure with pics- Make sure you look at the "spoilers alert" these pics are graphic and were hidden, the rest of the photos are there.
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