Everything in life is a risk / benefit analysis and we all have to do our own analysis. However, I have never found a full discussion about horns in any of my reading on goats. I hope to present here the facts and experiences on the subject of keeping or removing horns on goats from my research (online, in books and from other goat owners) and the experience of myself and other goat keepers. I compiled a different version of this analysis covering both sides of the issue. I am decidedly pro-horns, and was asked by Kalispell Kinders and More to present the "pro-horn" side of this issue for their blog. Briefly, about me, so you know that kind of guy you are talking to… I love animals of all shapes and sizes, domesticated and wild. I have been described as "having a way with animals", "being a whisperer", etc. While those are nice compliments, I don't see it that way exactly, I do not consider myself to be a whisperer, or to have some special supernatural connection to them. I just try to see it from the animals perspective, interact with them in a predictable manner that they understand. I try to bring calm confidence to the interaction whenever possible. The fact that I am an animal lover should not lead you to believe that I am a vegetarian, or that I do not cull, harvest or kill my animals. I do. For meat for my family, to "put them down", etc. I am not much of a hunter, though I am a fisherman. I am not a vet, nor do I have any formal training in animal husbandry, though I have worked on ranches and/or owned livestock in one form or another for most of my adult life. I am (at the time of writing this) 35 years old and living on a 5 acre homestead in Northern California.
What follows is what I have learned over the years from my reading and talking with other goat keepers. I run a mixed (horned and not horned) herd, currently I have 10 with horns and 5 without horns. I regularly work with a herd of 20 (+/-) goats without horns and a 30(+/-) herd that is all horned.
When I give my opinion below, I say "in my opinion" or "My
Opinion:", when I draw on my personal experience I say; "from my experience" or "My Experience". Other wise I believe the rest to be accepted facts.
I have broken this analysis into sections that I call "The
Factors to Consider". These are the different categories of concern or consideration in disbudding or leaving horns. Each Factor (below) is discussed in detail by begin broken down into different aspects of that factor. At the end of each I offer my perspective on that particular aspect. At the end of the
discussion on each factor, I give a summary in my opinion of that
**To show Dairy goats in a ADGA show you must (as far as I know) disbud. Also all (as far as I know) 4H goats, must be disbuded.
**To show meat goats it is optional, but most meat goat judges (as far as I know) prefer horns.
**To show Dairy goats in a IDGR show you may have horns or not, but horns are judged and hornless goats have points deducted.
The Factors to Consider:
The decision making factors for keeping or removing horns (in order of most handlers importance in my opinion):
1) Goat Safety
2) Handler Safety
3) Goat Health
4) Goat Kid Trauma
5) Goat Re-sale
6) Horn Utility
7) Horn Beauty
1) Goat Safety
A) Goat to Goat Interaction: All goats (with horns or not) head-butt for play and for confrontation. There are three main ways goats use their horns naturally; A) Butting horns to horns (standing up, banging horns together, manipulating opponent by turning head with horns locked),
B) Hooking: (usually after butting but sometimes not; poking horns into head, neck, body of opponent by turning head to side and bringing horns backward to make contact with the point of a horn),
C) Side Swiping: (making contact with horns to the side of an opponent, usually not standing up before hand).
The only one of these three methods that disbudded goats will not do is hooking. Hooking is possibly the most dangerous to other goats (and humans, covered below) and can result in
puncture wounds, torn udders, etc. if they are truly fighting, or in
the rare accidental serious injury while sparing. Most goats know each others sparing limits and are not "out-for-blood". That being said accidents happen and goats can be hurt in sparing. If goats are truly fighting with one another beyond the expected; in the first few weeks of new goats being introduced to the herd while they establish the hierarchy, they should be separated if they have horns or not.
The benefit of horns in Goat to Goat interaction is that horns serve to align the head properly and then act as shock absorbers,
transferring the energy from a head butt's impact from the horns to the skull, then the spine and then the rest of the body in the correct way. Without horns, a goat is missing the primary element of that system. Thus, the head may not align correctly and the resulting shock to the head, and especially, to the neck / spine is greater.
Goats are more likely to use their heads / horns in an aggressive manner in the following situations; fighting for mating rights (bucks), fighting for food, fighting for space (limited dry space in
rain, preferred sleeping spot, etc), and to establish herd hierarchy. Limiting these conflict situations will result in less in-fighting in the herd. Keeping bucks separate or keeping only bucks that get along together, feeding in separate locations (as many as needed to prevent fighting), providing adequate space in pastures, paddocks, pens / barns, introducing new goats to the herd in
open space and only a few hours at a time, separating new goats at night, etc. all will help to limit in-fighting in the herd.
In my experience: The only goat I know of that was fatally injured by sparring or true fighting was a buck belonging to a elderly goat keeper I worked for. The buck ended up being euthanized after fracturing his neck by head butting with another buck he shared a pen with. Both were disbudded bucks, and the two were not truly fighting, they knew and liked each other, they had gotten along fine for almost a year in the same pen, they were just sparring and one got the angle a little wrong. X-ray's revealed a fractured and compacted vertebrae. Both vets on hand deduced it must have been caused by head to head butting. The buck that had the misfortune of getting the angle wrong was unable to walk for a week prior to X-ray and resulting euthanasia.
B) Goat to Predator Interaction:
Simply, goats use their horns as a last resort when cornered or physically caught by a predator or when defending it's kids. It is their last line of defense. In such cases a goat with horns has a
better chance of survival.
In my experience: I know a goat brusher who had a mixed herd of horned and disbudded goats that was attacked by a mountain lion or a few coyotes. His analysis after the fact was that only 3 of 10 disbudded goats survived with minor or no injury. While 15 of 20 horned goats survived with minor or no injury. He lost 14 goats in 2 days, he thinks it was all in one night, however at the time he was only checking on the goats every other day. They did have a guardian animal on site, a llama, the keeper said it was the last time he used a llama in deep woods.
C) Horns tangled / caught:
Caught in fence; Goats will try to reach food on the other side of a fence if they have horns or not. If you have the right fence and / or if there is enough food on the side of the fence the goats are on, they won't try to push their heads through it as much. Proper fencing would have holes no larger than 3-4" square (for adult goats) or 2" squares or rectangles (for kids and adult goats) and can include, electric netting, no climb or hog / cattle panels. Fencing with smaller holes closer to the ground is better, especially for kids.
Horns can become tangled / caught up in fencing, the fork in a tree, feeders, etc. Anything that poses this risk to goats should be avoided if possible. With the situation of goats getting hung from fencing; if the fence is an appropriate height the goat will not attempt to jump it, even if they do attempt to jump it (or any other
situation where they could be hung feet off the ground from a fence) it takes some fancy physics to get caught up, off the ground. The goat has to be in the air (feet off ground), turn it's head into the fence, tangle it's horns sufficiently that it can not free them, before the goat touches the ground again. Even then, the in-tangling has to be so bad that a goat (quite agile) can not free it's self. Furthermore, to prove to be fatal, this would have to
happen at night and / or out of ear shot from humans (screaming goats are pretty loud). As for forks in trees or other natural "hanging" hazards, this can occur when the goat gets it's horns between the fork of a tree and gets stuck. Again doing so to a degree that prevents the goat from being able to get out has to be fairly rare (my opinion). With both situations, it is just as
feasible (in my opinion) that a disbudded goats would get into this situation. Disbudded goats could jump up and get their head stuck in a fence and hang, or get their neck stuck in the fork of a tree.
One exception to all of the above would be young goats with horns, they can certainly fit through smaller holes (smaller than 3" square) and since the horns are not very broad or have not curled back yet, they can easily go forward though a hole that they can not go backward through.
My experience: My horned goats have never gotten caught up in fence (other than an electric netting that was not on). My
horned goats put their noses through the fence and grab a bite. However, my disbudded goats will put their heads through and will push on the fence like they are in a draft harness trying to reach the furthest blade of grass. My disbudded goats have stretched several sections of fence out doing this.
I have had one goat, a year old doe, who while browsing, had her front feet against a tree trunk, with her head just above a fork (a "V") in a tree that was about 3 ft off the ground. She either slipped off the tree trunk or let herself off the trunk and trapped her head (at the neck, just behind the jaw bone) in the fork of the tree. She could not stand on anything or get an angle to free herself. She FREAKED out, screaming, as I arrived I could see that she was trapped but not strangling due to the deep fork in the tree her
airway was not blocked. I stopped for a second to observe the situation before helping her. I wanted to see if her horns contributed to this situation. What I noticed was that she likely would have gotten into this situation with or without horns. However her horns may have been preventing her from being able
to free herself in one direction because of a branch. I picked her up an inch or so and with the weight off her neck she was able to free herself.
In addition, I have recently had perfect example of improper fencing on my own property. We moved our browsing herd to a new area that was partially field fencing and partially temporary electric netting fencing. We had a length of electrical netting that was not in use and we ran it along the outside (to the goats) of the field fencing. This created (from the goats perspective) a layer
of field fencing with 4" holes nearest them, with a layer of electrical netting beyond it. Unfortunately the electrical netting was not charged, it was just being stored there until it was needed on the next browsing area. A 3 month old male (destined for the freezer in 6-9 months) was browsing through this section of the fence, he stuck his head through both fences and then (from what I can tell) he pulled his head and a piece of the electrical fencing out through the field fencing hole. This created a situation where he had the nylon twine of the electrical fencing around his neck and he was up against the field fence. In his struggling he twisted the twine slowly tightening it around his neck and eventually strangled himself. This goat did have small horns (about an inch long) I am not sure that having horns contributed to his death, but I think it is very likely. That being said the situation could have happened to a goat without horns, the problem was with having an electric netting fence that was not on… that was a stupid mistake on my part.
Goat Safety Conclusion: It is my opinion that for Goat Safety, goats are actually safer with horns than without. If this were not true then nature would have eliminated horns long ago. I feel this is especially true for goats who head butt for play or confrontation. The MAJOR caveat of this would be that fencing is appropriate for goats with horns. Kids with horns are especially a risk, they are just learning about having horns and their horns are small enough to fit through smaller fence holes but then not be able to pull out. That being said, hard wire field fencing or panels are more of a trapping / injury hazard, where flexible or nylon wire fencing can be a strangulation hazard.
2) Handler Safety:
A) Goat Head butting Handlers: Goat's will head butt, they will do it to each other in play and in conflict. They will do it to you in play or in conflict if you don't train them not to. The idea that goats do not butt if they do not have horns is incorrect, I have never herd of, or known a goat that did not head butt to some degree. If you have a goat who head butts people in an aggressive
way, it's dangerous with horns or without and the goat should be trained not to do so or otherwise dealt with. It is unadvisable to turn your back to a goat (especially a buck) that you do not know. It is furtherly unadvisable to be down on your knees or crouched (especially with your back to the goat). And the worst practice is to be down on knees or hands and knees and lower your head
toward a goat, this identically mimics goat head butting behavior. One story I have herd was a handler on the opposite side of the goat fence on their hands and knees securing fencing to a bottom wire. They were repeatedly moving away from the fence (to cut a piece of wire) and then toward the fence (to secure the wire to fence). A disbudded wether came over and was investigating what
they were doing for a few minutes. The person turned to secure the next piece of wire and saw the goat coming down from standing on his hind legs and *POW*. When the person woke up the wether was lying a few feet away chewing his cud.
My experience: The idea that a head butt from a goat without horns hurts you less than a goat with horns is not my experience. Goats have some of the hardest heads on the planet, horns or not. I've been head butted by my fair share of goats, ones with horns and disbudded ones, in my opinion, the impact is the same, only
difference with horns is as follows: young goats who's horns still point out (have not grown enough to curl back yet) can stab when butting, on bare skin horns some times scratch (however, disbudded goats with scurs are UCH more dangerous than horns, they can be like knifes (see scurs below)). I have worked with horned and un-horned bucks that did not want to be caught or handled and it was basically a battle. In that situation, I would rather be up against a buck with horns, so I can grab the horns at their base and control them from the front or deflect the impact by pushing the horns to the side. (see horn utility below)
B) Goats Hooking or Horns stabbing handlers: Any goat who hooks humans (and even other goats in excess) in an aggressive manner is dangerous and should be trained not to do so or
otherwise dealt with. There is a risk that horns could stab handlers in some situations. Of particular concern is any situation where a handlers extremities could become pinned between the pointed part of the horn and a hard surface. For example, when you have a horned goat in a milking stand, your hand could be stabbed by a horn up against the milking stand. Another concern is "poking an eye out" there could be a situation where a handlers head is down
near a goats horn and the horn goes into the eye. (see aspect C below for similar)
My experience: I train my goats not to pull out of the milking stand aggressively or quickly, I have never had any "near misses" or injuries from hooking or stabbing. I do not keep any goats that have any aggressive behaviors toward people, I do not tolerate goats who use hooking against other goats excessively.
C) Other horn to handler contact: When in close contact with goats with horns there is inevitably some contact made with the horn to a shin or knee, or elbow, etc. Since these contacts normally don't have much, if any, force behind them. They are no more
dangerous than getting hit by a disbudded goats head. In stories that I have herd, most goat to human contact is in this category, usually accidentally on the part of the goat or due to handler not paying attention. The blows are usually grazing or glancing blows from the hips to the shins. This is not to says that they do not hurt, they can hurt quite a bit, as can a glancing blow from a disbudded goat. The worst situation is to have a grazing or glancing blow like this from a goat with scurs (see below) which can be very sharp and add a nice scratch or cut to the interaction.
My experience: The only time I have been injured by a horn was once in the brush I had a doe come up to me who had been shaking her head for a few days and I thought her ear might have something in it or be infected etc. So I took a peak in her ear, she
stood still, did not mind at all. Just then others in the herd got spooked and all moved at once. She turned her head to see what was going on and hit my mouth with the side of her horn. It bloodied my lip a bit, lesson learned, medical exams take place in the milking stand. I get very close to my goats, I get down on their level, they will approach me and touch their forehead to mine
(gently), they will push their horns against my shins if they want my attention, etc. I allow this and have not been injured by them else wise with horns or not.
D) Goats and Children:
Goats (and any other animal) can be dangerous to children. No child should ever be around animals (especially livestock) without supervision. Horns increase the danger for children in the simple fact that they are not as soft as the rest of the goat and they are pointed. That being said, a head butt is a head butt, horns or not.
My experience: I have seen disbudded and horned goats butt children who were with goats under supervision. In both cases
(different children) the butting was light, testing where the child stood on the hierarchy. Both children reported being hit in the stomach or chest and also reported that their bottom was "where it hurt" (from falling on their butt). Since the last incident I now require that any child under 5 or so, hold an adults hand or be carried when around goats in open areas.
Handler Safety Conclusion: It is my opinion that the majority of the dangers that handlers / humans face with goats are true for both horned and disbudded goats. Hooking / stabbing is the only difference and I consider the likelihood of being injured in this way to be rare. Exceptions to my conclusion would be in situations
where young children will be handling the goats often. From a handler safety perspective, I encourage you to look at the issue of horns from this perspective: Horses weigh thousands of pounds, one miss-step and a handlers foot would be crushed, one well placed kick and your broken or dead. Dogs and cats are predators, they are fast, have sharp teeth and claws, an angry or scared dog or cat could hurt a person in a matter of seconds (and they do). We
as owners of horses, dogs and cats understand these risks, weigh them against the rewards and decide if this animal is something we want. I don't keep horses who kick, period. I don't keep dogs that bite, period. I have cats that scratch but I just leave those one's alone, they eat the most mice. And I don't keep goats that are aggressive towards humans, period.
A) Brain Damage: When you disbud a goat kid you are putting an piece of metal heated to 1000+ degrees F just on the other side of a fairly thin (at that age) skull of a week (+/-) old developing brain. If it is done wrong (wrong spot or too long) it can cause noticeable brain damage to goats.
My opinion: I'm not sure that a few seconds less, or 4 or 5 cm to the left or right is enough to convince me that some damage is not occurring when disbudding is done properly, the fact remains
that you are applying high heat to a not-yet fully developed skull near a near a not-yet developed brain. For me this risk to the goat is not worth the benefits of disbudding… to me.
B) Temperature Regulation: Horns serve a health function in the goat. They regulate their body temperature by circulating blood
thorough their horns (specifically to cool themselves down). Without horns goats will rely more on panting (like dogs do) to regulate their temperature.
My Experience: When comparing my horned goats to my disbudded ones, I notice the disbudded ones, will pant
sooner and go into the shade more on hot days.
C) Scurs: Definition: Scurs are horn growth that occurs after
disbudding, bucks are particularly know to have scurs do to testosterone and more aggressive horn growth. Scurs can result in horn growth that is sharp, dangerous, un-sightly, or, in some cases, curl around and grows into the skull. The solution is to cut scurs off with hoof trimers, or with bigger scurs a wire saw, which could lead to extensive bleeding.
My Experience: I have been scratched many times and cut deeply once by scurs when handling disbudded goats. I have trimmed scurs from goats that were growing into the skin, causing infection.
Goat Health Conclusion: It is my opinion that my stocks health will be better overall, the more natural it is. We have long hot summers (over 100 for 6-8 weeks a year) so temperature regulation is important to me. Risk of brain damage of any level is completely un-exceptable for me. Scurs in my opinion are more dangerous in most cases than horns.
4) Goat Kid Trauma:
Disbudidng is unquestionably traumatic to goat kids (as is castration). In both situations, if the handler-goat relationship is of value, a little work will need to be done to rebuild the goats trust of the handler. In this section
My opinion: The less trauma my stock experiences by my hand, the better. I emasculate (pinch/crush sperm delivery tube method of castration) my wethers but that's about it. No bits in my horses
mouths, no shoes on my horses, etc. I work really hard to build trusting relationships with my goats. I'm gentle and calm around them, they are gentle and calm around me. I would want this if they had horns or not.
Summary of Goat Kid Trauma: It is my opinion that disbudding is the most traumatic thing you could do to a goat. Furthermore, I feel it is more in-humane than branding (of horses / cattle, etc), tail / ear cropping (in some dogs) and de-clawing cats, since it is done to the skull, near the brain with VERY high heat, at a very young age.
4) Goat Resale:
Dairy goats without horns are easier to resell than dairy goats with horns. Most people don't want to create a mixed herd of horned and disbudded goats. That being said I have sold goats with horns to people who had disbudded goats. I have also given people buying kids the option to have horns or not, shared with them this information, allowed them to work with large
goats with large horns. About half of those who were unsure of if they wanted horns or not went with horns after reading this and working with horned goats. I think this is a perfect ratio.
Goat Resale Conclusion: If you plan to sell your goats take into consideration what the market demands. I sell some kids, when I do I offer buyers the option and I will disbud for buyers. If I keep a kid, I do not disbud and I know that if I decide to sell it at a later date, I will have to find a buyer who will take a horned goat.
5) Horn Utility:
A) Scratching Themselves: Goats use their horns to scratch
My experience: I notice my disbudded goats using fences, trees and buildings more than my horned goats do for scratching
themselves. My horned goats still use these things to scratch on, just less.
B) Scoring tree bark: Goats use horns to scratch against tree and bush trunks. This behavior is either to loosen bark to eat or (in bucks primarily) to deposit scent (from glands located on head) on
the tree (marking it).
C) Browsing: Goats use their horns to pull down branches and push down small trees and saplings. Horns are more effective for pushing down small trunks than just the head since the trunk is trapped between the two horns.
D) Handling goats by the horns: DO NOT HANDLE
GOATS BY HORNS UNLESS NO OTHER OPTION IS
AVAILABLE! Horns can break and due to the large number of blood vessels in horns, it can be a serious even fatal situation. If you handle goats by the horns only apply pressure to the base, closest to where the horn is attached to the skull, and even then only limited pressure. Horns can be used without grasping to turn a goats head.
My experience: One buck that I work with is led from pen to truck and truck to doe by his horns, the handler stands with a leg on either side of the goat (he's a Nig Dwarf) facing the same direction as the goat and the handler holds the horns at the base. Handler and goat walk together. If the goat struggles or back up, handler pushes goats head down so chin touches chest and goat submits. This buck is very difficult to catch, but once caught, he handles
in this way very well, I was nervous to do it the first time but after handling him this way I prefer it to a mad buck on a leash / rope.
Horn Utility Conclusion: It is my opinion that horns are useful and important to goats, I think if you could ask them, my disbudded stock would tell you they wish they had them (especially when they were trying to move up in the hierarchy or scratch their own back). While I do not make a habit of handling my goats horns, I do it, and will continue to (carefully).
6) Horn Beauty:
I have not met many people who think a disbudded goat is more beautiful than a horned goat of similar appearance other wise. Admittedly this is a minor factor, but the fact remains that people like to look at goats with horns. Not to mention that watching them use their horns is interesting, entertaining and educational
Horn Beauty Conclusion: For everyone it is obviously your own decision to make. Every situation is different and there are situations where I would recommend disbudding for safety of goat and handler. For me, the benefits of keeping horns on my goats out-weigh the hazards. There are no doubt some specific considerations that must be kept in mind when keeping horned goats.
As far as safety for goats and handlers, as a keeper of horses, I would say that horses pose more of a threat to handlers than horned goats do, due to their size / weight. I have been hurt by horses many more times and much more seriously than by
goats (not taking into consideration actual riding of horses). A single mis-step by a horse, or a malicious kick can break bones easily. A kick to the head can be fatal. I have a hard time imagining a goat breaking bones or killing a handler in any situation. Dogs can (and do) bite people, even their owners. I would rather go into a pen with a horned goat I do not know, than
with a dog (of any size) that I do not know. That being said, there are risks to working with horned goats that should be taken into consideration by handlers.
From the goats perspective, I feel the trauma, risk of brain damage, lack of horn utility and temperature regulation are major
disadvantages to the goat. The risk of brain damage in particular is one that I am not willing to take for my stock.
I feel that both situations can work fine if handlers understand the risks associated with either side of the argument and handlers manage those risks properly.
I suppose we could put a warning label on horns like we do with other dangerous things: "Wear eye protection", "Contents Hot", "Don't use lawn mower as hedge trimmer" etc. Many things in our lives have inherent dangers, especially if our lives are lived on a farm or with livestock.
I also feel that disbudding came to us from larger scale dairy (likely cow dairy) operations. Certainly homesteaders one hundred years ago did not disbud. Goat shepards in other countries or continents (Turkey, Africa, etc) don't do this. So, for me, it
falls into a category of "This is how they do it, so this is how I do it", similar to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As an organic farmer, I tend to question these kinds of things.
America is one of the few places that disbudding is a common practice for dairy goats. In Europe horns are not only left on but they are part of breed standards and they are part of the judged criteria at shows. Further some European countries have banned disbudding (along with rubber band castration) because they are considered cruel. In addition the International Dairy Goat Registry is attempting to discourage America dairy goat breeders to stop disbudding their goats. Here is a link to an article on their site: http://idgr.info/index/articles/why-horns/ I did not
find this article until several years after I originally wrote my observations and opinions about disbudding. Many of my points are shared in this article, some are different.
In summary, here are the key points they site in the article as to why all goats should have horns;
1) Horns are ‘social’ organs; goats use them to re-establish the herd ‘pecking order’,
2) Horns are thermoregulatory organs, regulating the temperature of the blood supply to the brain.
3) Horns are a physical attribute subject to selection in breeding and thus a judicable criteria in IDGR shows.
4) Horns serve as indicators of protein metabolism and general
feed-conversion efficiency; the more massive the structure and the more and deeper the corrugations, the better the goat may assimilate and utilize its feed. They also indicate past experiences with serious illness.
5) Horns indicate the age of an animal; the ‘annual rings’ are usually easy to see.
6) Horns are convenient handles, enabling the herdsperson to control the goat’s head.
7) There is in dairy goat breeds a definite and established link between the incidence of hornlessness and hermaphroditism.
8) Horns have some utility as weapons against predators.
9) Horns are useful ‘tools’ to goats.
10) Horns are beautiful. 11) Horns are useful as art or craft work after the goat dies or is harvested.
Keeping a herd that is mixed (horns and no horns):
I keep a mixed herd and over-all it works for me fine. The only issues are with goat to goat interactions. Goats with horns have
the upper hand due to their ability to absorb shock better and the ability to hook. This results in my horned goats being the alpha and in the upper hierarchy. My disbudded goats quickly find their place and I monitor the head butting carefully until everyone knows their place and accepts it. I started with a mixed herd from day one, getting a horned goat and a disbudded goat just a few days apart. Having managed this situation from the start, I have adapted my handing and infrastructure to meet both situations at once.
Since I work with larger herds of both varieties (one all disbudded, and one all horned) I will say that I do not notice any more or less fighting, in either herd. In the 2 years I have worked with both herds, the only serious related injury to goat or handler was the above mentioned neck fracture that happened
between two disbudded bucks. I do notice that horned goats, especially male wethers, like to spare more than disbudded goats do. I have two horned wethers who will have a sparring session once a day. Usually they take turns, one rearing up and coming down on the other with all 4 hooves on the ground, then they will switch roles. They will do this for hours sometimes, never very hard (relatively, soft to goats is pretty hard to humans), and when one walks away, the game is over.
Conclusion on Keeping Goats with Horns:
1) Goats are naturally horned animals; the natural reasoning, benefit and utility of horns may never be fully understood or appreciated. I am content with the fact that nature has reasons and I am not one to argue with nature when I can help it.
2) Disbudding can make goats more safe to be around in some cases, but more dangerous to handlers and other goats (scurs), and to themselves (neck/spine impact injuries) in other cases. This ends up being a fairly even trade off in my opinion, usually leaning toward disbudding being a disadvantage to goat and handler.
3) Disbudding is unquestionably traumatic and potentially very harmful to goat kids. If done a little bit wrong, you end up with scurs or otherwise deformed horns. If done a more wrong, you could give mild or severe brain damage to your goat.
4) Horns are useful to goats, handlers and are a useful aspect of goat meat harvest and they are beautiful. Disbudding prevents all this utility and beauty from ever existing.
As many things in life, it is your choice to weigh the risks and benefits and decide what is right for you and your family. At this point in the U.S. there are no laws preventing or requiring the disbudding of goats. If that law ever changes (as it has in some countries in Europe), I am certain that it would be to ban disbudding, not to require it. Currently there is a culture and
a standard of dairy goats being disbudded. I feel that those of us who do not wish to disbud for whatever reason, should work to change that culture and make it more common place for dairy goats to have horns. I have lost sales due to my goats having horns, but I accept that as the cost of doing what I feel is right for my stock. My goal is to provide logical and factual information on the
subject so others can make the choice that is right for their herd and their family.
Eric Lee Dickerson