To horn or not …

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Horns can be a topic of contention among goat people. Some say nature gave goats horns, so who are we to remove them, while others see the horns as a liability and an unnecessary risk of injury.

There are pros and cons to each position. Unless fencing is small “box wire” (aka field fence), a horned goat will invariably get its head caught in the fence. Sometimes the goat can extricate itself, but other times it will stand, hang or lay trapped until found and its horns dislodged.

A horned goat is also more dangerous should it become excited or aggressive. It’s one thing to be butted by a smooth head, yet another to be surprised by 150 pounds of horned arousal.

There are three common techniques for removing horns. While different regions may have slightly different names for them, these techniques generally are known as disbudding, banding and dehorning.

Disbudding is done when the horns are about 1-inch long. A hot iron is used to burn the horn bud. The burning “kills” the horn and cauterizes the wound simultaneously.

The kid is sedated so, in my experience, this procedure isn’t very stressful and seems to result in little post pain. My little guys are up and running like normal once the sedation wears off, albeit with a somewhat more sensitive head. The burned horns will fall off within a week or two and normally don’t grow back.

On occasion, spurs/scurs (mutated, weak, secondary horn growth) will grow. The goat most likely will rub those off given time. The horns don’t grow back thick and long like they were, thereby solving your horn problem. There is a slight risk of infection of the burned area and the wound where the horn falls off. The site should be monitored during fly season to prevent irritation or eggs in the wound.

Banding seems to be popular with goat people who do their own animal care. This also should be done when the horns are quite small in order to prevent complications. A band is placed around the base of the horn at the skullcap. By preventing blood flow to the horn, the horn dies and falls off. Again, there is a slight risk of similar complications when the horn falls off.

Dehorning is done when the horns are too long for either of the previous procedures. Dehorning is done by tranquilizing the goat, sawing off the horns with a tool similar to a hacksaw, packing the wound and bandaging the head.

It is traumatic for the goat and can result in infection of the surgical site, fly infestation, and complications resulting from the opening in the skullcap.

I would recommend dehorning only in the most severe situations as the risks don’t equal the benefit, in my opinion, and it’s very traumatic for the animal and handler alike.

For more information on handling horns, consult and

Eds. note from Naimhe Jeanne: Early on, I had two goats dehorned. It was the most horrifying experience I’ve had with goats and something I will never do again. I will re-home a goat before putting another one through that.


8 Responses to “To horn or not …”

  1. You can “train” a goat to keep it’s head where it belongs. A 12″ pices of plastic 1/2″ water pipe taped across the horns for a couple weeks will help teach the goat it can’t stick it’s head through. Even after removing the pipe, the goat remembers it being there and is less likely to test the fence.

    I don’t disbud or dehorn. I do have a couple naturally polled does, and some hornless I bought. I prefer horns, they make a goat easier to work with.

    And they DO give them protection from predators….I’ve seen it first hand.

    • lill

      i have goats as well and we do not dehorn only because we were told that there horns release heat like are foreheads when we have a fever

  2. […] Awe, cute little guy! He should be fine, but they may grow back. If you really want them gone, contact the vet and have him disbudded, as the other poster suggested. I don't think they did the banding correctly. Here's a web page that shows the right way to do it. Bar None Meat Goats – Banding Horns The bands on your little guy seem a little high. A couple more links: Australian Miniature Goats, Horns To horn or not … | All Things Goat […]

  3. ceclectic

    hi. i have 1 goat with horns and i’m looking to get her company. would it be advisable to get a goat with horns or would a disbudded goat be fine? just want to make sure they can play well and not hurt eachother.


    • NJ

      It really depends on the goat you get. Most horned goats never use their horns in a way that causes injury, some do. I don’t have horns on any of my does but I leave my wethers and bucks horned. I have yet to have had a problem due to horns beyond the morons getting their heads stuck in the fence. My advice would be to get a young companion goat that will grow up with your girl. That way you shouldn’t experience any great aggression. Choose the goat by disposition, not necessarily based on horns keeping mind that if you do develop a horn problem, it’ll be a difficult task to deal with later on when the horns have some size.

  4. miked

    Does anyone know how fast goat horns grow? I had my weather tipped not too long ago and was curious as to how fast, if at all, would they grow back to normal

  5. Kathrin

    I was taught to disbud (for those who choose to disbud) as soon as the horn bud can be felt below the skin. I did try it when the horn tips were pronounced although still not sticking through the skin or anywhere near 1″ and it didn’t work well at all. I am often disbudding when a goatling is 3-7 days old and while it’s my least favorite job I do it myself to make sure it’s done well and quickly. They are running and head butting within minutes of being put back with their mothers but I still shed a tear at times. I was surprised to read the suggestion to do it when the horn is 1″ . Is that when you do it? Or where did you read that. I’m curious. I’m totally supportive of people who choose to leave horns to grow but it wouldn’t work well for us and since no goat can be shown with horns I don’t want to limit a future owners options. Plus, I believe it’s so much more traumatic and a big medical deal to do it later. Banding is excruciatingly painful for an extended period of time. Someone recently posted about it on the holistic goat Yahoo group and I’ve seen cases myself. Anyone banding will hopefully do a careful job of ongoing pain relief as the goat heals.

    • NJ

      I disbud when the horns are 1/2-1″. My vet won’t disbud until the horns have broken the skin due to an increased chance of burning too deep. Once the horns have broken the skin, they’re easier burned off with no ill effects to the kid. The same method is used on my calves. We use pain control regardless of the procedure. My vet trained under Temple Grandin so he completely understands my stance on preventing and controlling pain whether from disbudding or castrating. I refuse to dehorn. I had it done once when I first started out and didn’t know any better. It was horrifying and barbaric.


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All Things Goat was created by Naimhe Jeanne (Nee-Vah Jeen,) of Illinois, and Martha Ann, of Vermont, who believe in the humane treatment of goats whether they are pets or raised for milk, meat or fiber. Through news, profiles, recipes and editorials, All Things Goat illustrates how our caprine friends improve the quality of life for many worldwide. Our All Things Goat intern is Lela Perez, of Killeen, Texas.

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