[FOR AN UPDATED PAGE WITH LOTS OF HOW-TO PICTURES, GO TO: Dehorning photos]
[FOR MOVIES OF AN ACTUAL DEHORNING, GO TO: Dehorning movies] (A rather lengthy download)
[FOR A NEW PAGE DISCUSSING PAINLESS DEHORNING, GO TO: Painless Dehorning]
First of all, let me start out by stating my belief that ALL goats should be dehorned in infancy. Yes, it is smelly. Yes, it hurts. Having said that, let me say that burning with a hot iron is the probably the most practical for the average farmer. Alternate methods include:
CAUSTIC PASTE: It sometimes fails. Do you really want to risk getting it in their eyes or rubbed off on someone else? Just too scary.Now that we have eliminated all those methods, perhaps you are thinking that it is best just to let them have horns. Not true! Animals with horns are more apt to fight with one another or be aggressive toward people. If the goat is eventually sold, this may cause problems for the new owner who may not be as patient as you are. If sold to a dealer who must transport large numbers of goats, there is more danger of injury during shipment. If your cute little goat turns into a mean SOB because you did not dehorn him, you have not really done him any great favor. We once acquired a mean horned billy who knew exactly what to do with his horns. Once, he caught me in the crotch with his horns and literally tossed me completely over the fence. If you think that dehorning by a hot iron is gruesome, you should see the bloody mess that is created when a horn is broken off or the outer layer is pulled off in an accident.
RUBBER BANDS: Advertised as "bloodless, painless." The bands usually fall off. Will oftentimes leave "scurs," (partial little deformed horns). It ends up being very painful when the bands cut through to the nerves. They just don’t work.
SAWING: You just let them grow and then saw them off from time to time. Your shirt and all the walls of the barn will be covered with blood before you’re done. (You can use a dehorning iron, a soldering iron, or a welding rod heated with a torch to cauterize the blood vessels.) Another technique is to saw so fast that you create enough heat to do the cauterizing. This makes you real tired real fast.
TAKE IT TO THE VET: Many vets have little experience with goats, less with goats which have horns, and even less removing horns from goats. They can anesthetize the kids to prevent the perception of pain, but I really don’t think this is necessary. I have received some criticism from a few vets regarding these comments. But if you can find a qualified vet in your area who can do the job properly, I would certainly encourage you to do so. (See Painless Dehorning link above.)
GOUGING: Yes, you read that right. There are devices which will scoop out the horn buds. These are more commonly used on cattle. No crueler procedure has ever been invented. Remember, I said this was the "get down and get dirty web site!"
If you're still not convinced, click here where we will try to make you sick with some real horror stories. Someone once asked, "Would you like to have that iron pressed into your head?" The answer is a definite "YES" if you will let me perform any of these on your head.
Dehorning box: This is a picture of a simple, but adequate dehorning box. It can be made from a few pieces of plywood and 2 x 4’s. The lid is essential and should have fairly strong hinges because you quickly flop it closed and sit on it to do the work. Some of the standard goat books have plans. The most important part is to make the groove for the neck deep enough so that the kid doesn’t choke or have its breathing restricted. Some kids who are nursing on Mom have a thickening in the throat which is harmless but which may cause choking in the box.
iron: Buy one of the irons which
have a ribbed plastic handle, not one of the wimpy wooden handles as in
the picture below. The proper iron is of at least 200 watts. An
excellent choice is the Rhinehart X30, 200 watt iron, which is
available through Caprine
Some have elements designed for large cattle (look like a loop) and
these will not work. There is an optional small goat tip for the X30,
but we recommend that you buy the larger one that can be used for kids
and young calves. This will come in handy if you let the horn buds get
too large (taller than 3/8").
Other supplies: After both horns are burned you will need to put some iodine or good powdered antiseptic on the burns. You should have a couple of pieces of paper towel handy to keep this (especially iodine) out of the eyes. You will need to trim the hair from the buds before you burn, either with trimmers or scissors.
DOING THE JOB:
The horn bud is ready to be removed when it is about the size of a "pointed pea," about 3/8" high. If too small, there is a tendency for the horns to reappear. It takes considerable experience to get them off if they are too high. You will quickly learn the ideal height.DESCENTING BUCKS
While holding the kid in your lap (not in the box yet) trim off as much of the hair over and around the horn as you easily can. Don’t take so long being fussy about this that you get the animal upset. It is really easiest to have two people involved in the actual burning.
You will now have to wait until the iron is sufficiently hot. Test the iron against a door frame or other non-valuable piece of softwood. It is ready to use when it leaves a nice dark circle in the wood.
Open the lid of the box. Grab the kid and rapidly fold ALL FOUR legs underneath its belly and stuff it in the box and slam down the lid before it can get its feet out from underneath it. Then sit on the lid; you don’t need to latch it. Have your "partner" put one hand on the neck and the other on the nose (not cutting off the breath). Put your left hand (if you are right-handed) on your partner’s hand that’s on the neck. Grab the iron with your other hand. Get a good idea of where the bud is (using your left hand if needed). Be prepared to hold down rather firmly on the back of the neck or on your helper’s hand. You need to hold the skin taut, pulling it backwards a little bit to keep from burning the skin excessively. "Parnter" should keep hands very still to avoid being burned.
Without further delay, firmly press the iron over the bud and begin counting: "a thousand one, a thousand two, etc..." Never let the iron sit still in one place. Slowly rotate the iron and at the same time make sort of a 6 - 8" circle with your hand to equally deliver the force to all parts of the ring that you are forming around the horn. For a bud that is the ideal size for burning, you will want to burn for about 8 seconds. If smaller, about 6 seconds would be about right; if larger, you can go a little above 8 seconds, but not very much. If you limit the burn per horn to 8 seconds, you will not "fry the brains" of the kid. (I promise!) Then, with the side of the iron tip rub around on the round part in the center of the ring to destroy any tissue that might be there. While continuing to hurry, briefly redo any of the ring that does not appear to match the general color of the burn. (This takes a little practice.) Be careful not to dig in too deep in any one spot. This will cause the skin to loosen and/or fluid to come to the area, which, in turn, tends to lead to subsequent infection.
As soon as this is done, repeat the process on the other horn. When the second one is done, apply a small amount of iodine to each burn area and pat gently with the paper towels. You must keep iodine out of the eyes. (If it does get into the eye, flush immediately with water. Follow up with daily eye ointment. There is a good chance of blindness.) Some dry powder puffers or aerosols are also excellent for this.
As soon as you are sure that the iodine has been taken care of, lift the kid out of the box and make it stand up. Usually, any signs of discomfort will end right away and the kid will want to play or eat. Very rarely, the animal will show signs of shock. This can usually be taken can of by forcing the kid to stand and rubbing or otherwise stimulating it. If breathing stops completely, you will have to start artificial respiration. I have done hundreds of dehornings and have only had to do this once. A neighbor brought over a very valuable purebred kid to be dehorned and, of course, this had to be the one that completely passed out in the box!
Billy goats have glands near the base of the horns that cause a good part of the odor that characterizes male goats. These can be removed with the iron at the time of dehorning. There is, I think, a little bit of luck and maybe experience involved in being successful at this. Further, some bucks just seems to smell more than others. Some that I have "descented" hardly smell at all and others...oh, well.
After making each of the burns, you make a second burn 1/3 diameter to the center and ½ diameter to the rear of the original burn. Part of the second burn may involve a little smashing down of the rounded part of the center of the bud. This picture shows where the burns are made.
It is best to realize that this job is not always successful and one, especially the beginner, should not feel bad if his prize little buck develops an odor. Also, bucks that are not castrated are more apt to have a regrowth of horns than wethers. So when you dehorn a male that is intended to be kept as a breeder you should (1) burn a little longer and harder than normal, and (2) make an attempt to get rid of the scent glands.
It is best to reapply the iodine or powder (no salves, ointments, non-drying liquids) every couple of days. Kids will frequently knock off the scabs that form. Watch for any infection that may occur, especially on the very outside of the ring. "Scurs" or regrowths can be reburned if necessary, but it is best not to wait till the goat is too big to hold still.
Be proud of yourself that you have saved the animal a lot of misery in the long run. You will get used to the smell caused by the burning. It’s never easy to intentionally hurt a little friend, but that’s part of raising animals. Good luck. Let me know how you did.
Occasionally, but more frequently in bucks, there may be some regrowth of horns after the disbudding has healed. You shouldn't feel bad if this occurs, for it happens to the best of us! There are a few ways to deal with it. If the goat is young and easy to handle, you can try to reburn it. Just plan ahead to figure out how you're going to restrain the animal, for once you start you don't want the victim to be wiggling around.
We have found that the standard Dremel tool with a Heavy Duty cutting disk does a pretty decent job. In the accompanying picture, we have secured the buck in the milk stand and I am standing over his shoulders. ALWAYS wear eye protection due to the fact that should the animal move, it can cause the cutting disk to shatter. Be sure to have good lighting because you will want to have an excellent view of what you are doing. Let him get used to the sound of the tool before you start digging in. Don't cut into the flesh, of course. A little practice will make you more skillful. But you'll be surprise how steady even a large buck, as pictured here, will become once he gets used to the procedure.
NOTE: This treatment is only temporary and will probably have to be redone every few months.
This is a very confusing subject about which we receive a lot of questions. First, there are no hard and fast rules. I recently responded to one e-mail by saying that the owner absolutely should NOT count on her polled goat to be a viable part of her herd. Then my wife reminded me that about 500 of our goats are descendants of our first doe, who was naturally polled. So, one can never say that a polled goat should not be bred.
The proper statement to make is: There is an increased risk that a polled goat will be a hermaphrodite and, therefore, unable to produce viable offspring. The wise thing to do would be to have all questionable animals carefully examined by a veterinarian before they are considered for breeding.
I can only speak from our own experience, but none of the descendants of our original polled doe have also been polled.
The polled kid will not have normally growing horn buds and you can generally move the skin around over the skull where the normal horn would appear. In a horned kid the skin over the horn bud will be stationary.
Many thanks to Debra W., who has provided pictures comparing polled and horned kids of the same age. However, she reports an approximate 50/50 split of polled and horned offspring.
The polled kid lacks swirls in the horn area.
The horned kid shows swirls over the horn buds.