Disbudding a Goat: Step-by-step instructions

goat with burned horn buds

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.

Disbudding a goat
When disbudding, you can use a special kid holding box, someone can hold the kid for you, or you can hold the kid on your leg as shown in this photo, a technique we learned from Ellen Dorsey, whose husband disbuds Alpine, Nubian, and Nigerian kids holding them like this.

Step-by-Step Disbudding

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Click here to visit our Amazon store, which includes a list of things goats need.

disbudding a goat

8 thoughts on “Disbudding a Goat: Step-by-step instructions”

  1. We tried our first disbudding. The vet says we missed a spot on the buck so we need to do more today. He said it just looked charred and not copper. Question: is the copper colour supposed to last into the next day? I basically burned until it appeared copper but it didn’t really stay long.

    • Hi Kimberly

      I’m not familiar with the color changing. If you observe a copper ring, you should be good.

      That being said, bucklings in particular, are harder to do completely successful disbuddings on, and are more prone to develop scurs.


  2. What about disbudding in the summer? Will flies and maggots be a problem or do the burned buds heal up before that is an issue? Recommendations for a fly ointment?

    • Hi TM

      The freshly burned area should be dry with no blood. It’s not an open wound, so flies are not attracted to it.

      After a few weeks the dry ‘scab’ area will fall off. In my personal experience there is only a small amount of blood with some- it really depends if it naturally falls off or is prematurely knocked off, but this tends to dry and scab/heal fairly quick as long as they are not re-injuring it.


  3. Can I return an edge of the horn I missed? Goats niw 4 months old. Seems I missed outer edge of horn on both sides of a buckling. I’m nit sure if I can return. They aren’t that long but feel attached to skull.

    • Hi Sandy
      At 4 months they are much too old to attempt any sort of removal on your own. At this age, you will need to have a vet involved, but even veterinary removal can be risky, painful, and hard to heal.

  4. I have four does that are three months old and is naturally polled. I took them to a local vet here in Mississippi and had my girls disbudded and my one doe got disbudded and she had leakage and on two different occasions she was playing with her sister thats 6 lbs and she was 3 lbs but she never got knocked in the head as I watched them play, well she would shake her head all twisted motions like she was having a seizure. So I called the vet and the receptionist proceeded to tell me that happens at times it’s normal but I knew in my heart something was off. Well she told me the scurs may grow back well long and behold hers did so we went back and done it again and poor girl for the THIRD time they came back!! By this point I am furious so I searched for another vet for a second opinion because now I had a SECOND baby with horn scurs growing. Here in Mississippi we have ZERO experienced vets and much less finding one who even sees goats and if they do they say and do nonsense things!!! So we went this second opinion vet who I seen before and definitely didn’t care for well he said the other vet disbudded too soon 2 weeks old and he can try to remove them but no guarantee because they were grown to wide out at this point even though I watch and waited for scurs to grow to catch them ASAP to have them removed. He said they can POSSIBLY get them cosmetically removed but we have to wait a little longer and see how they grow a lil more!! In my experience of watching MANY too rated farm channels they disbud at a week old or right or if they dont feel horn buds and they uncertain they wait no longer than another week MAX so how can it have been too soon!! No I call that inexperienced!! So now I AM NOT WAITING I am calling for this THIRD opinion vet which is my last vet resort and praying they can surgically remove them. I am very frustrated and upset about this situation.

    • Hi Flora
      I am a little confused. If the goats are naturally polled, why were they disbudded? Polled goats do not grow horns.
      If a horned goat is to be disbudded, two weeks IS NOT too early. In fact, I disbud some of my bucks when they are just a few days old if their buds are growing fast. And all of my goats are typically disbudded between 5-10 days of life. After that it becomes increasingly difficult to do the job effectively without causing damage to the kid.
      Scurs should not need to be surgically removed. They are mainly cosmetic and will typically break off or fall off on their own as they grow. In my experience, the more times they get knocked off, the less they grow back.
      I hope this information is helpful. ~Tammy


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