We have a hard and fast rule on our farm: No horned goats. Period.
As with all things goat, other farms may have other opinions, but let me tell you why we make no exceptions. Each of the three awful things that could happen with a horned goat has happened to a person I know. I’m not talking nebulous urban legends—I’m talking about terrifying outcomes for my friends and their goats. Be warned, this article may not be easy to read.
1. Horned Goats Can Get Stuck In Fences
The shape of a goat’s horns—facing backwards from its head—often means that a goat can move its head forward through a small opening, but once on the other side, cannot get back out. Several things can happen at this point, from dying of exposure or dehydration before you find them to breaking their own necks trying to get unstuck. The very worst thing is that they can be mauled and eaten by a predator.
A goat in a herd nearby had this gruesome outcome. While stuck in a fence, a stray dog killed and ate it. The saddest part is that this was a herd where they, as a rule, disbud all of their own goats. However, this goat was one they bought that had horns, and they just didn’t think this could really happen. It does. And it’s not as uncommon as you would think or hope.
Of course, your goat may not be killed. It may just be badly injured, leaving you with the task of either euthanizing it or taking it for an expensive vet visit followed by a long and painful recovery. All of these outcomes are terrible and unnecessary.
2. Horned Goats Can Severely Injure Their Herdmates
A lot of people say they want to leave horns on their goat in case it needs to defend itself. I am never sure what they think it’s going to defend itself against because predators don’t care about horns. Watch some National Geographic videos. Goats also don’t need horns to fight. They have perfectly serviceable, hard skull plates to use when battling for dominance or breeding rights. Horns do, however, come in handy for fighting dirty, which brings me to my next awful story.
A woman we know had a mix of horned and non-horned goats. Her philosophy was that nature put those horns there for a reason, so in her own goats, she didn’t remove them. But keep in mind, farms aren’t nature. Nature is cruel and competitive. One of her goats used its horned head in a lifting motion to gore and slice the udders of four other females in the herd. It literally tore open the udders in an attack. Aside from the obvious total loss for this woman’s dairy business, it left her with the same bad choices laid out above: euthanasia or vet services. Plus, the injured goats might never be able to work for her again.
If you farm for a living, losses like these can be financially devastating. If you just have goats because you love them, it’s just as devastating on an emotional level, especially knowing you could have prevented it.
3. Horned Goats Can Hurt You
In the scheme of things, this is the least upsetting, but it’s still a very real thing to consider. A friend of mine was recently trimming her goats’ hooves when the goat sharply lifted its head right into her face, knocking out a tooth. A nice, pretty, healthy front tooth. If no reason other than vanity, this freaks me out, but knowing the story about gored udders, I imagine things could have ended up so much worse.
Before you say that you use a stand to trim hooves or some other reason this couldn’t happen to you, know that it could. Whether intentionally or accidentally, you will have your face—or your leg, or your arm, or any other part of you—inches from your goats’ heads from time to time. Taking the risk is simply not worth it.
Disbudding takes 10 seconds per bud to perform, and it keeps you and your goats from these potential catastrophes for their lifetime. As mentioned before, that horn bed is a hard, bony plate. It is not filled with nerves, and the ones that are there are cauterized with the disbudding iron. I have seen kids back to playful head butting within 60 seconds of the procedure—back to normal in a minute. In the scheme of risk/reward calculations to be made on your farm, this one is a no-brainer. Disbud your kids, and don’t own horned goats.