We receive a lot of questions about horns on goats so we thought a blog would be a nice way to address the issue.  There are different opinions on this topic and the passion behind these opinions can run high.

Over millennia, horns have provided a necessary source of protection and defense for animals in the wild. Many people believe that what nature has provided, man should leave alone.  We can respect this passion but sometimes ask our “naturalist” friends to look a little deeper at the issue.

In the goat world of today, some goats still carry horns, others are “disbudded” and others are “de-horned”. 

Why and what is the difference?

Typically, meat animals (cows, goats, some sheep etc) have horns.    Sometimes, meat animals are often pastured for lengths of time which increases their exposure to predators (coyotes, wild dogs, etc). The horn is used in many cultures outside the United States included medicines, tools, horns and supplements. However, meat goats typically are not “handled” as frequently as dairy goats.

In the Dairy Goat industry, horns are deemed more of a nuisance and a danger to both the animal and man.  First, goats are inquisitive creatures.  Horns can be caught in fences, brushes & briars and small trees.  Many goats die every year fighting to free themselves when caught by the horns.   Even if they do not break their neck in the frenzy to free themselves, the stress alone can kill the animal.  Goats do not handle stress well.  In the wild, an animal who died from a horn entanglement was simply deemed a casualty of mother nature’s “survival of the fittest”. Mother nature is not always kind.

A large portion of a dairy goat’s value is tied up in the “udder”, the wondrous milk-producing mammary gland between the hind legs.  Punctures and damage from horns have ended many a dairy goat career.

Some goats live with a guardian dog at night in areas where predators may be an issue.  The need for self-protection is all but removed  as dairy goats are milked twice per day and spend a lot of time in the hands of their caretakers or near the barn.

In addition, many 4H children begin showing goats at their local county fair. A 4H rule is in place to protect them from goats with horns.  Children are also not allowed to compete with bucks (intact breeding males).

As a caretaker, I can tell you that horns impact daily handling. The jerk of the head, a playful gesture or a argument over where to go next can inflict serious wounds on well meaning owners.  The scrape of a sharp horn up the back of a bare leg is an unnerving experience.

De-horning is a nasty, bloody and traumatic experience for a goat. It is not a simple procedure. Removing the horns on an adult animal includes sawing them off, taking a piece of the skull as well.  The head is bandaged so that the bone can re-nit.  It is a risky procedure because for a period of time, the sinuses are exposed until the skull can heal over under the bandages. Disbudding became the norm to make the transition to no horns easier.

Disbudding is the use of a cauterizing tool on the horn buds.  When a kid is about a week old, they will develop horn buds which resemble a hard pimple. Using a hot iron designed for the purposed, the bud is cauterized, which kills the horn cells. The process takes 5 – 10 seconds on each side. Babies can be given an analgesic to ease discomfort.  Within barely a  minute, most are off bouncing in the pen or seeking their mother’s udder for a treat. Two little scabs will form on the top of the head which soon fall off.  After that, hair begins to regrow and the goat will live a horn free life.

If you are new to goats and want to “disbud”, seek the assistance of either a veterinarian or an experienced goat breeder/owner.  If disbudding is not done correctly, little vestiges of horns can still erupt and cause problems as the animal matures.