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Ask Martok: What is Disbudding?

Martok the goat explains why some goats have their horns removed and how it works.

By Martok, with Sue Weaver

Disbudded goat
Courtesy Sue Weaver
This is our goat Milo after he was disbudded. See, the horns are gone!

Q: I'm so excited! I'm getting two baby goats to bottle-raise as pets, but the breeder says I can't pick them up until next week, after they've been disbudded. What is disbudding?

A: Disbudding is when the horn buds of a young kid are removed. This is usually done with a red-hot, electric disbudding iron so that the horns won't grow. Some goats (often meat goats and pack goats) will get to keep their horns, while others, like dairy goats are disbudded. I am disbudded, for example, but my buddy, Uzzi, has horns.

Ask Martok

There are two reasons why you might want to disbud a goat: for show and for safety. The American Dairy Goat Association prohibits horned goats from showing, and 4-H requires goats be dehorned or tipped. This is out of concern for humans’ safety, but there are also safety concerns for goats.

Us goats can get our horns caught in things like feeders and fences. A goat stuck in a fence can die of exposure on a hot, steamy summer day or super-cold winter night. It is also at the mercy of predators. Horned goats also might use their horns to bash and hook one another. Ow! This is especially dangerous with dairy goats because a horned goat can seriously injure a herd-mate's large, delicate udder. Horned goats can accidentally injure other goats and people, too. A quick move could unintentionally put out an eye. Mom always has bruises on her arms and legs from walking into our Boers' horns, and they don't mean to hurt her. No way!

Disbudding with an iron sounds and is painful, but over our lifetimes, it's best for us goats. It's done when we're very young—a few days to 10 days old, depending on our sex and breed—and it's over quickly. It should be done by someone who's done it lots of times before and knows how to do it correctly. If the iron isn't applied long enough, the horn buds aren't fully destroyed and the goat will grow scurs, deformed, horn nubbins that can curl back and grow into the goat's head. If the iron is applied too long or incorrectly, brain damage can occur and the kid might die.

Don't think you can avoid hot-iron disbudding by using caustic disbudding paste. It doesn't work very well, and if it gets in the kid's eyes, it can cause blindness. Dehorning your goats as adults is also a bad idea. To remove horns, they must be cut away at skull level, which opens a big hole directly into the goat's sinus cavities. Adult dehorning is a bloody operation that must be done under anesthetic by a skilled veterinarian, and afterward, the holes must be carefully tended for months until they heal shut. If not done right, the goat could bleed to death.

Mom takes my kids to Emily Dixon, my first human mom, for disbudding because Emily has disbudded hundreds of goats. If you think you’re ready to try it yourself, check out the article on page 24 of the November/December 2011 issue of Hobby Farms for details on how it’s done.

About the Author: Ozark Jewels General Martok, who describes himself as "a really studly Nubian buck," lives with his family and friends on a small farm in the Arkansas Ozarks. Read his blog, “Mondays with Martok,” for a peek at their daily animal activities.

Have an animal-related question? Send it to Martok at hobbyfarms@bowtieinc.com, and include “Ask Martok” in the subject.


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Ask Martok: What is Disbudding?

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Reader Comments
I bought 2 young goats and they were going to band the horns the night before I came to get them. With in a month both goats lost 1 horn. The person I got the goats from came over to my house and did the re-banding procedure, and added extra bands. The horns NEVER came off .So now both my goats have 1 horn. one of the goats regrew the horn that fell off, the first time and a year later I went out to check on them and that horn was missing again. Is it ok to leave them with one horn?
Terri, Pahrump, NV
Posted: 1/25/2013 10:15:34 PM
I know that they've tried to breed naturally polled goats but it didn't work. We've had a few and it sure is nice not to make the kids go through this painful process. But they seem to recover within seconds of it happening.
Galadriel, Lothlorien, ME
Posted: 9/24/2012 11:18:18 PM
Most of our goats are disbudded. I have the vet come and do it for me. It is over in no time and a little while after the kids are up and playing again. Do it early so it is easier to do. I have one buck that has large scurs and is very friendly but I have almost been hit in the face a few times.
Cathy, Hollidaysburg, PA
Posted: 4/25/2012 3:20:03 PM
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