Goat kid care: Horn removal

It is farmer’s choice whether or not to remove an animal’s horns, but most goat producers do as part of their herd management practice.

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goat debudding process
Ivory Harlow photo

Disbudding is removing the horn buds from a young animal. Farmers choose whether or not to disbud goat kids based on their herd management practice, market requirements and farm infrastructure.

Reasons to remove horns

  • Goats with horns get their heads stuck. Having a stuck head makes a goat vulnerable to predator attack, strangulation or dehydration.
  • Most shows require wethers to be disbudded.
  • Some buyers prefer disbudded animals.
  • Horns give an animal a competitive advantage in the herd. A dominant animal will use horns to bully.
  • Herdsmen can be hurt by horns.

Reasons to keep horns

  • Horns are natural.
  • Horns look majestic.
  • Horns serve as handlebars that make handling animals easier.
  • Animals can use their horns to fend off predators.

When to disbud

If you decide to disbud, do it when kids are between 3-10 days old. Removing horns before kids are 3 days old has proven to be less effective at deterring regrowth.

Scurs are small, misshapen horn regrowth that may occur after disbudding. The chance of scurs developing is less likely if kids are disbudded right the first time. Scurs pose no health threat to the animal, but producers and potential buyers find them aesthetically displeasing.

Two methods of horn removal

The two methods of horn removal are iron or caustic paste. Caustic paste causes chemical burns. After treatment, you must isolate the kid from its mother and other herd animals. Removing horns with caustic paste also requires keeping kids out of the weather elements. Rain or dew can wash chemical into a kid’s eyes or onto other unintended areas.

goat disbud successfully healed
This kid successfully healed after iron disbudding. (Ivory Harlow photo)

I find iron disbudding to be an effective and efficient way to remove horn buds. The process is quick. I can return the kid to its mother for comfort immediately after disbudding. Make sure the kid’s horn base fits entirely inside the iron. If horn base is wider than the iron you will get regrowth. Specialized irons for mini breeds are available.

How to remove horns with a disbudding iron

Equipment and supplies: Disbudding box, clipper, disbudding iron, gloves, blood stop powder and antiseptic spray.

Step 1. Preheat iron

Step 2. Clip area around horns

Step 3. Put on gloves

Step 4. Restrain animal in disbudding box. I highly recommend using a disbudding box versus manually restraining kids; it’s safer and easier for you and the kids. You can buy a disbudding box or download free blueprints to build one online.

Step 5. Hold iron over bud for 3-5 seconds. Lift iron to reveal a copper circle. If you see a white circle or poorly developed copper color, reapply the iron for an additional 3-5 seconds. Under-burning results in scurs; over-burning can result in brain damage.

Step 6. Brush off bud.

Step 7. Repeat on other bud.

Step 8. Apply blood stop powder if area is bleeding.

Step 9. Spray horn with antiseptic spray to deter infection and speed up healing.

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