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The hotly debated topic - disbudding

 
Posts: 36
Location: Indiana, zone 6
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Hello Deborah, I have not yet read your book, but would like to know your thoughts on disbudding.

We have made an intentional decision not to for several reasons. I will not be offended by anyone attacking our decision, so feel free to disagree. I would be hard pressed to think of any other animal we just remove parts of their body because we are either afraid of it, don't want to deal with it, or feel they maybe don't need it. We would never pull all the teeth from a dog because we were afraid of getting bit or it biting someone else. Perhaps along the same lines we also do not band our goats. If we end up with more males than we need, we eat/sell them (or just let them run around mounting each other and eating briars), we do not clamp body parts and block blood flow until the tissue dies nor do I feel like crushing the spermadic cord with pliers.

Our goats use their horns for all kinds of purposes, back scratching, grabbing saplings, determine seniority, etc... Its actually awesome to see them use something they know they are supposed to have as a tool (probably really sucks to not have opposing thumbs) We have yet to see a goat run around goring small children, gutting one another, hanging themselves from tress/fence, or tearing the milk bag off another goat with their horns. In fact while I have heard many people make claims of hearing that these things happen, I do not even know a goat keep who has had these things happen. This has a cost though, it is almost impossible to sell a horned goat to someone whose herd is hornless. We also cannot show our goats because the ADGA has decided goat don't need horns (but yet they are fine on a meat goat)

Im not a crazy animal lover, I will/do kill and eat them and think they taste yummy. But I just cannot treat something I know has a central nervous system like it doesn't have one. Nor can I pretend it either was created/or evolved(depending on your beliefs) with body parts it really doesn't need.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks in advance

--Kurt

 
Posts: 281
Location: North East Scotland
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Someone I know had a facial injury from a horned milking goat turning round whilst she was milking.
 
Kurt Stailey
Posts: 36
Location: Indiana, zone 6
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Thank you for the reply Katy, but this sort of echoes my statement above about knowing people who know people. I understand safety and hope your friend didn't suffer any long term effects from the experience, but making something the norm to counter rare events doesn't make sense to me. I have had others who dehorn say the reason is convenience, that is exactly what my neighbor who plows and discs his monoculture farm then dumps on the chemicals to keep it growing reasonably after 30 years says when asked why he farms that way. I have been kicked by horses, bit by dogs, pecked by chickens, flogged by geese, etc... I just never thought the solution was to remove the offending part of the animal. Im just more careful around horses, don't stick my face in the dogs bowl, and I'm aware when removing eggs from under a broody hen she may peck me.

When I go into the goat paddock, I am fully aware they may accidentally get me with a horn, but they could also jump up on me, run into my knees, knock me over or bite me if they wanted.

Maybe I just have issues with systems that get applied large scale without due consideration, especially when I see them generally undefended or filled with "what-ifs".

--Kurt
 
Posts: 91
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Hi Kurt!

I didn't do much research before I got my first goats, so I had no idea that dairy goats were disbudded, and I was NOT happy when I learned about it. Because of what you said in terms of selling goats, I decided that I would initially disbud kids to make it easier to sell and also because dehorning is a horrible procedure and leaves holes in the head to the sinus cavity until it is healed over, and I did NOT want someone buying a horned kid and then having it dehorned. Basically I viewed disbudding as the lesser of two evils.

Then someone gave me two pygoras with horns. They were a menace! They were always beating up my disbudded Nigerians, and it was obvious that they had the upper hand. One day when my husband picked up one of the pygoras, it moved its head just right so that it stabbed my husband in the face about an inch away from his eye. That was rather unnerving, but the final straw came when I looked out the window and saw one of the pygoras hook his horns under the belly of a pregnant doe and pick up her back end off the ground. I yelled at my children to go get the pygoras out of the pasture, and I emailed the person who gave them to me and asked her to please come take them back because I was afraid they were going to kill my other goats.

I also have Shetland sheep, and the rams are naturally horned, and as far as I know, no one disbuds them at all. They are born with such huge horn buds, I'm not even sure how practical it would be to try. Anyway, all of our Shetland rams and wethers have horns. One day we found a dead wether with his horns stuck in a fence. We didn't have a necropsy done, but we're assuming he got his horns stuck, panicked, and broke his neck. We also had a ram lamb who broke off one of his horns. And we had one little ram lamb who was not very smart. He got his horns caught in the fence well over a dozen times. We would hear him screaming and go out there and get him out of the fence, but one day we weren't home, and a coyote got him. I'll also add that polled Shetland rams are getting VERY popular now because the horned rams are also notorious for destroying pipe gates, fences, and buildings. One of our rams busted through the wall of a shelter to get to a 10-year-old ewe and breed her. It looked like a car had busted through the wall! Sadly the ewe died when her lambs were only one month old because she simply was not hardy enough to have been bred at that age, which was why I had her separated from the ram. Somehow the horns make their heads much more durable when it comes to banging things, which we also saw in the head butting between the horned pygoras and the disbudded Nigerians. The Nigerians always seemed like they were being smacked in the head with a 2X4 and would stagger backwards.

So, after all of that, I'm pretty much in the pro-disbudding camp. But if someone has a horned herd, and they want a horned goat, I will sell them one. I am nervous about people buying horned goats if they have small children, and I'll tell them about my reservations, but in the end, the decision is theirs. If someone simply says they want horned goats because the horns look cool, they need to know that this is not simply a cosmetic decision like cropping a dog's ears. The reason meat and fiber goats are not disbudded is because they are not handled hardly at all, so the odds of a human injury are quite small compared to dairy goats, which are handled twice a day, on average 305 days a year, so more than 600 opportunities for an injury with one goat yearly. I will not sell a horned goat to someone with disbudded or polled goats and vice versa. People really need to have all horned or not in their herd so that all the goats are on a level playing field. Mixing them is not fair to the goats without horns.

Our goats are able to do all the thing you mentioned, such as scratch their backs, grab saplings, and determine seniority without their horns. The only important reason I've ever heard for keeping horns is that they act as radiators to keep them cooler in summer, so perhaps if you live in a desert, they would be useful for that reason. Once temperatures start to climb over 90, a lot of our goats don't look very happy, but not having horned goats any longer, I'm not sure that they would look happier in the heat. The Shetland ewes are naturally polled, and they don't seem to have any more or less problems with the heat than the rams do.

So, that's my very long answer to your question! It was definitely not a decision that I came to quickly or easily!
 
Kurt Stailey
Posts: 36
Location: Indiana, zone 6
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Thanks Deborah, we are in a similar boat. When we first got into goats we had no idea that the kids were locked in a box and had their buds burned. Then we talked to a couple who went to our local 4H goat club and someone there was offering "free disbudding". The building was full of smoke, screaming kids (both human and goat), the smell of burned hair, and it was just disgusting. One of the goats was months old and had 3-4 inch horns which the "goat guy" said he could still remove. This involved burning it in sections so he could snap it off with pliers a half inch or so at a time. It took minutes and had to have been horribly painful. The goat died a few days later, probably too much heat to the brain.

My wife and I still discuss maybe choosing the lesser of two evils and disbudding, but so far we have found other ways to use/enjoy our animals. We barter the milk we don't drink/eat/turn into soap to others who make things with it. We use it in the garden and for other animals as well. We also make some money on breeding because we have several intact bucks, and the extra males go to meat. We are fortunate that we haven't reached the point yet where we have to decide and it sounds like we have been very lucky so far to not have any horn issues. In fact, we have more problems with our hornless goats, some have extra horn growth that breaks off, bleeding if they head butt too much on each other, etc... Thus far the horned goats have only resulted in the slight inconvenience of building different milk stands, not being able to use keyhole and other feeders, and building horn friendly fence.

We keep sables which are not an overly popular breed and the current ADGA rules make it such that to play, you have to be willing to burn horns. The shame is we have very good bloodlines in an uncommon breed; excellent milkers who will have to be happy living out their lives on our farm instead of competing because they have their horns. And that's okay

Instead of making it easy for folks to get into goats you have to be willing to mutilate them.

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge/experience here with everyone!

--Kurt

edited for typos/spelling
 
Deborah Niemann
Posts: 91
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That is the WORST dehorning story I have ever heard! I am not surprised the poor kid died! I'm actually surprised it survived a few days. And it is no wonder you're reluctant to do this. I recently took a video of my husband disbudding a kid start to finish, including trimming the hair with the dog clippers, and it was 3 minutes. The horn buds are only burned for a few seconds, and when you're done, the kids recover almost immediately. You clip the hair so that there is less smoke, and you don't do it inside a building unless you have a well ventilated barn. And you do not disbud a doe that is more than 2-3 weeks old or a buck that is older than a week unless it was born super tiny and needs to grow a little more. In your story, a vet should have anesthetized the kid with horns and removed them surgically. A couple of total strangers have called me over the years looking for someone to take care of a kid that had horns already, and I told them to call a vet or just let the kid have horns at that point. A few years ago, we somehow completely missed a buckling, and I saw tiny horns sticking up at me one day, so I just decided we'd have him for meat. We also have some polled goats, which means less disbudding because 50% of their kids are polled.

That's very cool that you have sables! They're beautiful and great milk producers!
 
Katy Whitby-last
Posts: 281
Location: North East Scotland
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In the UK disbudding has to be done by a vet and under anaesthetic. I don't think I'd be happy having it done in the way described
 
Posts: 24
Location: Woods of Northern Indiana
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Ugh!! How terrible, Kurt!!! We have a similar "I didn't know we have to do THAT?!" story after we got our first goats this spring. Somehow I missed that part in all my research when deciding whether or not to add goats to the mix here. One of the goats we bought was pregnant so we did have a baby to disbud. We watched YouTube videos, read library books and tried to learn a lot before we embarked on the hated thing. All the other goats we have are disbudded and we are keeping the baby so it had to be done. After seeing the videos I was just sick (the videos weren't badly done, only a few seconds of burning etc, I was just so sad hearing the little bleats). But our baby girl hardly made a sound, recovered instantly and didn't hate us for life (like we were expecting). Do I wish we didn't have to do it - absolutely! However, seeing how much our one goat bullies the others makes me very glad she does NOT have her horns. I guess it's just a matter of assessing your own personal situation and going from there...
 
Posts: 122
Location: VT, USA Zone 4/5
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In my experience, goats can use their horns to help insulate their heads from the shock of an electric fence if they want to push under it. After they got out, they also liked to lick the salt off our cars, running their horns along the sides of the cars in the process. If you happen to have a nasty goat, a nasty goat with horns is much more dangerous.

I don't have goats anymore, and most likely won't have them again - I loved the little creatures, but they were not eating poison ivy as was their job. If I get larger animals again, I may opt for more docile creatures, with no horns.
 
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I don't agree or disagree with your decision, your goats-your choice. But I do know of one justification for de-horning, if you pasture your goats de-horning could save their life, goats are notorious for poking their head through the fence to nibble on the other side and getting themselves stuck in the fence, I've rescued many of them, have found many more already deceased. This has been on ranches in Texas where a pasture may be someone's backyard or few square miles of country, but can happen anywhere the goats can get "out of sight-out of mind".
 
Posts: 63
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Kurt, I totally support your decision. After being terrorized by a doe at a horse stable, where I couldn't stand or sit to talk without Miss Tank coming charging at my knees. I do see the purpose of disbudding. I do pay the extra to take the kid to a vet, get the local pain-revealing shot for them and have the disbudding done professionally there. It's not about not being able to do it. It's about making the experience as kind as possible for the kid. After hearing your story about how badly and botched the disbudding was, what those people did, and what you went through at that barn, I'd be burned and terrorized, too. I love my goats. I could have never allowed that.
 
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As a long term goat keeper/goat milker/cheese and soap maker, we finally made our decision to dis-bud or not financial. We may not like the world, but many of us that keep, raise and sell goats live in the world. A simple reality in our region, NE Texas, is fully intact meat goats are worth more money and dis-budded dairy goats are worth more money. Our vet dis-buds under local anesthetic and the doelings and keeper bucklings get over it quickly. As for the young kids with horns, poly-wire with a hot charger or a pipe taped to their horns will keep them out of fences.
 
Kurt Stailey
Posts: 36
Location: Indiana, zone 6
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*knock on wood* So far we have avoided these horned goat issues, thankfully. Hopefully we can go another 8 years keeping goats without any of these problems. I just sort of let the animals behavior dictate if it gets to stay on the farm or go in the freezer. If its mean/destructive/etc..., it goes in the freezer. Whether its the best buck/best milker or the runtiest goat we have. Thus far we have maintained some level of harmony.
 
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We use Paste on my mothers farm here, trim all the hair back with scissors, tie the feet so the kid can't scrape their head with their feet and smear the caustic, then smear a light coating of caustic soda disbudding paste over the horn buds and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. At the end of the period wash off any excess that hasn't reacted with a vinegar soaked cloth.

This is best done as soon as the buds can be discerned by touch. Usually a week or so of age.
 
Posts: 62
Location: Colorado
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I have seen some of the downsides of horned goats. However, if your goats aren't perfectly co-operative, I have to say that horns make very nice handles when you need to get them where you want them.
 
Kurt Stailey
Posts: 36
Location: Indiana, zone 6
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Very true Jonathan, more than once I have grabbed a horn handle and led goats around, especially when I didn't have a collar available.

--Kurt
 
Deborah Niemann
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Disbudding with paste is not recommended for goats for a couple of reasons. For one, goats have very thin skulls, so if someone uses too much, it could go through the skull. Another reason, which you alluded to, is that kids will rub their heads because the paste burns, and kids have gotten the paste in their eyes and been blinded.

I'm one of those people who wants to try everything and then make up my own mind, and we tried using the paste on two kids the first year. My husband and I each held a kid for 30 minutes so they couldn't rub their heads on anything, and it was horrible. They screamed the whole time. Then it occurred to us that instead of a few seconds of burning with an iron, these kids were enduring 30 minutes of burning with a chemical! And the worst part is that it didn't work. It hardly burned through the skin on the bud, so the kids had to be disbudded with an iron anyway. The learning curve for using paste on goat kids is just too much. It's impossible to give good directions that can be easily followed in terms of how much paste and where. If someone knows how to do it, and it's working for them with zero problems, that's good for them, but figuring out how to do it for most people will involve a lot of trial or error at the expense of kids.

I know this type of disbudding works well for cattle, but it just doesn't work the same way with goats. Cattle have much thicker skulls and much higher pain tolerance than goats.
 
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So, is it always a terrible idea to mix horned and de-horned goats? What if they are all nigerian dwarfs? It seems they couldn't be that dangerous at such a small size. I saw this little guy for sale on Craigslist. He seems to have tiny horns. Would he be a threat to hornless (polled?) does?

Kurt I like your line of thinking. I have a pet rabbit I love. Everyone said we should get him castrated. My husband and I couldn't bear to do it. He is not for breeding he is just our little baby. But we are kind of softies at heart. And it makes sense that goats need their horns for things like self-defense.
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Deborah Niemann
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Please read my earlier post about the pygoras that we had. They are the same size as Nigerians, and they terrorized them, and I ultimately got rid of them because I was afraid they were going to kill my NDs. Those tiny horns will NOT stay tiny. They will grow quite long in only a few months. He will have a definite advantage over the goats without horns, and he will figure that out quickly and take advantage of the situation.

As far as self defense goes, the horns on my Shetlands did nothing to protect them from coyotes. We had a full grown ram with a huge set of horns attacked. You have to have good fences and guard animals on duty 24/7 if you have a predator problem. And if you are soft-hearted, it won't be easy to deal with the death of a goat caused by his horns. I am not saying you should get this kid with horns and have him disbudded because it's too late for that. They are already too big to be dealt with easily. He should go to a home with other horned goats where he will be fairly matched when it comes to head butting, which all goats will do to determine dominance in the herd.
 
Carmella Montebello
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Thank you Deborah. All these posts are extremely helpful. As you can probably tell I'm very new to goats. These will be my first ones. I'm glad I am learning all this in advance. And you are right it would be hard to deal with a death. I cried for three days when one of my chickens died.
 
Kurt Stailey
Posts: 36
Location: Indiana, zone 6
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Hi Carmella, They are cute as could be at that age. We still have a few goats that were dehorned before we bought them, they are awesome and they will be living out their retirement here eating brush for us. With the rotation method we use it is easy for us to keep the 4 hornless goats separate from the rest of the horned goats. During the winter we move everyone to a shared area to simplify hay feeding and for the last couple of years they have all gotten along fine, if a horned goat begins to try and change the order of dominance or becomes aggressive we will put up another fence and move the older hornless goats off by themselves.

There are many reasons people speculate they need their horns; defense, temperature regulation, a tool attached to their head to manipulate their environment, etc... All I know is they weren't put there by mistake and I just can't remove them


--Kurt

 
Kent Ormsby
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We've run horned and de-horned goats together for years with 0 problems, this includes pygmies, ND, Nubians, Boers, Saanens, Alpines and many hybrids in between.
 
Deborah Niemann
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Here is a video about disbudding under sedation:
https://gianacliscaldwell.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/disbudding-using-sedation/
The only wrinkle is that you have to get the drugs from a vet, and most are not willing to give them to you.
 
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In my opinion there is no reason to dehorn goats other than as a convenience to the owner. I am not going to try and change anyone's mind as it is a personal choice. I just want to give my reasoning for this with some of the most common answer's given to why you should disbud.  First off, I have been around goats for around 25 years, and currently keep a mixed herd of boers and Nigerian dwarfs on just over 5 acres. If your goats are getting stuck in the fence, then you are using the wrong type of fencing. They make pasture fence specifically for goats to avoid this problem. Yes it's more expensive, but after all, you wouldn't keep a horse in a dog kennel because it was cheaper than a pipe stall would you? No matter what animal you have, big, small, horned, disbudded, etc. You will always have damage and need to mend fence and structures inside the pasture. That is just the nature of having livestock of any kind. As for injuries,  I have personally never had a horn related injury, but have commonly seen injuries from lack of horns with other herds. Specifically when disbudded goats head-but and the skin on the skull splits. As for injuries to people,  more often than not it always comes down to lack of training/respect of the handler or an animal that was not properly socialized. When it comes to feeding, we use a raised trough as opposed to the "v" style feeders for several reasons.  No fighting for food and less waste are two, but also no clearance problem due to horns is also a big one. These are how I deal with the most common answers to why people often disbud goats(head gets stuck in fence/damage to fencing and structures, injuries to people and feeding). Again, I am not trying to change anyone's mind or infer they are wrong, as they are your goats and it is your decision.  
 
pollinator
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Location: NW Montana, USA
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Interesting opinions and experiences here.

I'm on the fence with disbudding.  I had my first 2 bottle babies disbudded.  It was horrible :x  I felt so guilty.  But now that they're 5 years old I don't regret it one bit.

For starters, like other stories I've read, having had both disbudded and horned goats, the horned goats are BRUTAL to one another.  I've had goats try and use their horns on me; they've spent all their life communicating with their horns and will do the same with a human if so compelled.
Once I was milking one of my does; she was a good milker but sometimes had short patience for being milked.  And once, only once, she decided to tell me enough was enough with the milking and hooked her horn behind my knee and tried to knock me down.  Luckily she had rounded and curled horns that weren't capable of poking big holes in flesh.

One of my boys accidentally gave me a concussion.  I was fussing with his halter, his head was down and he was nibbling the grass.  Behind me another goat approached and I didn't see.  My boy jerked his head up to tell the other goat to buzz off and he caught me under the jaw with the top of his head.  IT's little stuff like that where I am so grateful that he's disbudded; of the thousands of times I've taken his halter on or off, that one time could've seen a big pointy LaMancha horn shoved up into my pallet...

My disbudded boys are naturally more peaceful as a result of not having horns; they're huge, and they would be a legitimate threat to anything smaller than them if they had horns to bash stuff with. They'll headbutt goats, chickens, pigs, cats, dogs, you name it.  Just not people.  And even though it's a method of setting boundaries and communicating, they can't physically do the damage they could if they had horns.

After I had them disbudded, to my dismay, they started growing scurs.  I had them surgically castrated at 4 months old and had the vet re-burn them in the process.  It was a horrible day for the boys, poor things.  But that's one serious risk with disbudding; a hard scur can grow in strange ways and if it curls inward it can be a danger to the animal.  Now they get tiny little 'fingernails' of scurs every few months that pop off while they're head butting/playing.  The unexpected benefit of this is that those tiny scurs are tender and keep the boys from seriously bashing eachother or the other animals.  It has forced them to be aware and gentle with their heads.  This also enables me to run them with miniature goats who do have horns; the equation balances and the minis don't get bullied too bad, but also don't have the prowess to use their horns to gore the big boys.

Another point I am REALLY GRATEFUL that I got them disbudded is FENCING.  These guys are escape artists.  It's bad enough wen a 175lb goat can fit through a 5x7 hole, untie knots, and listen to hear wether or not the elecric fence charge is actively clicking/on.  They're TOO smart.  And if they had giant lockpicks/demolition hammers on their heads?  There would be no fence left in the world that would keep them contained.  And I mostly need to contain them for their own safety!

Also, they're pack goats.  And one boy is SO NAUGHTY about his pack that I have no doubt if he had horns he'd be using them relentlessly to mess with the pack, just for the sake of being naughty.  He would be a living nightmare that would probably only be good for stew meat if he had his horns.  And I might also be dead from them.  Or seriously maimed.


In the sense of safety, it's a bit like ripping out pig tusks.  I don't want to do it, but I also have a 700lb boar that loves face scratches, and he'll get really into it and start rubbing his face on you.  Well one wrong movement of his head and he could gore you with his tusks, accidentally.  Thankfully he hasn't done more than rip a pair of jeans with them so far...  Do I intend to de-fang any of my piglets?  No!  But then again most will be food, so I won't have to be LIVING with them and dealing with them for years to come.  

I don't consider that to be "convenient".  I consider it to be necessary for me and my goats to co-exist.  
Not all farms are like that though!  I am very hands-on with my goats.  They ride in the car and come backpacking with me.  A goat who lives in a pen or pasture and rarely leaves or gets handled would have different compatibility requirements.  
 
Posts: 327
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We had an angora buck one place I worked, whose horns measured one metre from tip to tip.  Just wanted to mention that, because I always wondered if it was some sort of record!  Luckily he was extremely shy and docile, with humans at least.
 
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All my goats except for one have horns. They fight to establish butting order, and sometimes the Toggenburg head goat is just mean to the others, but no one gets injured, and they get along well.

I've raised Saanens, Toggenburgs, and some Saanen/Nubian crosses.

The way they interact with each other would have a lot to do with breed, individual temperament, and herd dynamics, and some herds will fight and establish order more than others (and there is more of this happening when the herd changes through introducing new goats and other times of change).

When we are around them, we are just very aware of what they're doing, and to make sure our eyes aren't in the path of any possible sudden head movement. This isn't something I stress over, but just a natural awareness. Their horns aren't sharp, so I can't see them causing serious damage to anywhere other than eyes. I've had bruises before, and been hurt before, but it is nothing serious - I've also had bruises from slipping on the floor, and I've never thought of getting rid of the floor!

It is a personal choice, and some people are just afraid of horns, or the registered breeding system they want to be a part of doesn't accept it. When I've sold goat kids, I have had people come from far away just because they want goats with horns.

Tests done on cows milk from horned and dehorned cows found that the milk was a better quality from the horned cows. I also contemplate that because the horns grow naturally, there might be important reasons why they are growing - one of these reasons is the ability to get rid of excess heat from the body when they need to, maybe there are other reasons that haven't been discovered yet?
 
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