Disbudding goats is best done with a disbudding iron, which burns the horn buds and stops them from growing. For best results, bucks should be disbudded within the first week after birth and does by two weeks. The longer you wait, the larger the horn bud grows and the longer you will have to burn to remove it. This is not fun, and procrastinating will make it worse.
You really should see an experienced person disbud goats before trying it yourself. Some breeders are willing to let a new goat owner watch them disbud kids. If you don’t have a breeder near you, large animal vets can also disbud kids, although be sure they have experience with goats. Disbudding cattle is far more forgiving because cows have much thicker skulls.
There is a multitude of online videos showing disbudding, but not all of them offer good information, in particular with respect to the depth of the burn. It is possible to burn through the skull, which will result in death, of course.
The successful burn is not deep, but it is wide enough to cover the full horn base. Scurs, which are tiny bits of horn growth, may grow in places that were not burned. Doelings tend to have small horn bases, making it easy to burn everything. Bucklings, however, have wider horn buds, which means it is easier to miss a part.
There are disbudding irons with interchangeable tips and with a non-removable tip. I prefer to use an iron with a non-removable tip because this type of iron will get hotter than the type with interchangeable tips.
Regardless of the size of goats you have, the tip for the standard goat works best. The tip for dwarf or pygmy goats is not large enough to do a good job on smaller goats.
Irons vary with respect to pre-heating times and how hot they get. Some irons get much hotter than others, and some take so long to get hot that users don’t wait long enough for the iron to get hot enough to do a good job. Anytime strict times are suggested for pre-heating and for burning, make sure you know the make of the iron being used.
- Find the horn buds. Although you can’t usually see the horn buds through the kid’s hair, you can feel them. They are simply a pointy, raised part of the skull. If you shave the hair from the kid’s head, you will be able to see the horn bud somewhat. Shaving the hair off using dog clippers with a #10 blade before disbudding is a good idea because it makes the horn bud easier to see, and burning hair is smoky and smells terrible.
- The disbudding iron should be heated up until it is literally red hot. The hotter it is, the more quickly you will be able to do the job. An iron that is not hot enough will require more contact time on the kid’s skull, increasing the risk of overheating the brain.
- The disbudding iron is placed over the horn bud for a few seconds at a time until you see a copper ring where the iron was in contact with the head. Some sources on the internet suggest counting to ten, but we never burn for more than three to five seconds at a time. You can always burn a second, third, or fourth time if you don’t see a copper ring, but if you burn through a kid’s skull, you don’t get a second chance. It is also possible for a kid to develop a form of encephalopathy if its brain overheats during the disbudding process.
- Once you see a copper ring, the skin in the center will start to separate. Use the edge of the disbudding iron to flick the skin off the horn bud, which some people call the cap.
- After removing the cap, turn the disbudding iron to the side and burn the middle of the horn base until it is also copper colored. You may or may not see a small amount of blood. If you do see blood, use the iron to burn the spot to cauterize it and stop the bleeding.
- If kids are dam raised, you should immediately stick the disbudded kid under its mom to nurse. You will notice that she will sniff under the tail to make sure it’s hers. Although does and kids recognize each other’s voices, smell is the litmus test, and if a kid doesn’t smell right, some does will reject it. After disbudding, the sooner you put the kids back with mom, the lower the risk for rejection. Although it is usually temporary, it is worrisome when a doe won’t let her kid nurse. This is more likely to happen with a first freshener.
This is an excerpt from Raising Goats Naturally: A Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More by Deborah Niemann.
Disbudding is one of many topics covered in our online course on kidding and raising kids. It includes videos of more than two dozen kids being born, as well as videos of disbudding, castration, bottle-feeding, tube feeding, determining whether kids are polled or horned, and much more.