To horn or not …
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.
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.
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.