Goat Disbudding Options

disbudding goats

Disbudding is every goat owner’s least favorite task. Disbudding is burning the horn buds at a very early age so that horns don’t grow. If you don’t want your goats to have horns, they should be disbudded within a week or two of birth before horns actually start to grow. 

Dehorning is actually removing horns that have already grown, and it is far more dangerous and traumatic. It is usually done by a veterinarian, and the goat is under sedation. However, the procedure leaves two large holes that are open to the goat’s sinuses, making infection a real possibility. It is not stitched up because that actually increases the risk of infection. Please do NOT buy a horned a goat and think you can just have the horns removed. There are plenty of people who sell goats without horns. 

Meat and fiber goats, which are not handled that much, usually keep their horns. However, dairy goats are usually disbudded because they are handled twice a day for milking, making injury to humans with those horns more risky. My husband almost had a horn in his eye one day when picking up a horned goat, and I met a woman whose daughter’s eyelid was torn by a goat’s horn.

Horns can also be dangerous to the goats themselves. I originally had two horned pygoras and got rid of them after a couple of months because they were so brutal to my goats that didn’t have horns. The day that the wether hooked his horns under the belly of a pregnant doe and lifted her off the ground, I decided they had to go. Thankfully the doe was okay, but it felt like a matter of time before someone sustained a real injury. I have also had horned Shetland sheep, and several of them had problems because of their horns. One broke off a horn when he got it hooked behind a wooden fence. Another kept getting his horns caught in a woven wire fence, and one day the coyotes found him before we did. So, even though we don’t like it, we do disbud our goat kids for our safety, as well as theirs. Plus, I would be very upset if I ever sold a horned goat and later learned that someone had dehorned it, which leaves open wounds into the sinus cavity and can even cause death.

When I got goats in 2002, there were two options for disbudding goats — a disbudding iron or caustic paste, which is incorrectly named “dehorning paste.” Both burn the horn buds — one with extremely high heat and one with chemicals. The ingredients in the paste are calcium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide, which is lye. Even though everyone said that the iron was the only real viable option for goats, being the curious person that I am, I wanted to try the paste. We had used it on a calf once, and it worked fine.

I had been told that paste should not be used on goats because too much will eat through the skull, too little won’t work, and goat kids have been known to rub their head on their dam’s udder, causing damage from the paste. There have also been horror stories of kids rubbing it into their eyes, causing blindness. (Having splattered lye into my eye when making soap years ago, this seems especially horrifying to me now.)

Paste is commonly used on cattle. Since they have such a thick skull, no one worries about using too much. Before using it on a heifer, I sought the advice of my cattle mentor who told me to put a dab on each horn bud about the size of a quarter and put a piece of duct tape across her head, covering the horn buds, so that she couldn’t rub it off. That’s exactly what I did, and she didn’t seem the least bit bothered by it. I removed the tape a week later and saw pink skin where I had placed the paste. It had worked perfectly. 

Our first year with goats we took the kids to a vet to have him disbud them. He gave them all an injection of something that just made them limp, so they couldn’t struggle, although they could still scream through the procedure. This is really not recommended, but I didn’t know better at the time. Looking back, the injection seemed pointless since the kids were still obviously in pain.

Caustic paste

The next year I decided to try the paste on goats. The instructions for goats say to leave it on for only 30 minutes. I figured that my husband and I could each hold a goat for 30 minutes so that they couldn’t rub it into their eyes or onto another goat while the paste did its magic. After a few minutes, the kids started to scream intermittently. They continued to scream for the rest of the time the paste was on their heads. When we removed the paste, there was only minimal damage to some of the skin covering the horn bud. It had not come anywhere close to destroying the horn bud. There was no way we were going to try again with more paste for another half hour.

Disbudding iron

After my negative experience with paste on goats, we bought a disbudding iron and have been using that method ever since. We had carefully watched the vet disbud seven kids the first year, so we copied what he had done. Whenever we sell goats we tell the new owners that we will be happy to disbud the first kids born on their farm so they can learn how to do it.

Disbudding works great on does, assuming you use a large enough iron. We use the Rhinehart X-30 1/2″ goat tip. The pygmy tip is too small to burn enough of the horn bud, even on small goats. Bucks frequently get scurs, which are tiny bits of horn growth around the edge of the horn bud. To avoid this, many goat owners will move the disbudding iron around to burn a larger area. I don’t recommend using a Rhinehart X-50 for calves because that’s too large. That’s what the vet used on our first seven kids, and although six were fine, the upper eyelid on one kid was damaged because the iron came too close to the kid’s eye. I don’t know any goat owners who use a cattle iron, but we live in cattle country, so that’s the only disbudding iron the vet had, and I’m sure he thought he could control it well enough to avoid burning too much.

In all of my years online, I have only heard of one person burning through the skull of a goat kid, which is why I suggest only burning for a few seconds at a time. I cringe when I hear people say to hold the iron on the kid’s skull for ten seconds. Maybe that works for their iron, but it may be too long for an iron that gets hotter. We’ve disbudded hundreds of kids with zero fatalities or problems. When teaching people to disbud I say that you can always burn again for a few more seconds, but if you burn too long and go through the skull, you don’t get a second chance.

Clove oil

Injecting clove oil into the horn bud is a third option that popped up in a published study in 2015. After reading about the experiences of many people trying this, including some vets, I can’t bring myself to subject my goats to it. The process is simply too new and has not been studied enough to provide specific instructions. When people on social media argue about their success and failures, those for whom the procedure worked will nitpick the procedure followed by those whose efforts failed. Was the essential oil injected into the horn bud or under it? At what angle? How deep? Yet, the original study simply says, “In groups 1, 2 and 3, 0.2 mL of clove essence and in group 4 (Control) 0.2 mL of normal saline was injected into the left horn bud of goat kids.” It is important to note that failure does not simply mean that horns grew. In some cases it means that a kid died. If something as minuscule as depth or angle of injection can mean the difference between success and death, this is not a technique I want to try.

People will also argue about the purity of the essential oils used, yet all brands have had their successes and failures. People will then argue that a failure with a “good” oil involved a mistake in technique. Since most companies in this country don’t share their analysis of active ingredient reports, it is likely that strength of active ingredients varies from one batch to another, even within the same company. After all, no one is marketing their oil as a disbudding oil.

It is worth noting that in the original study, which was done in Iran, the researchers purchased cloves at the local market and distilled their own clove oil, which was then tested to determine the strength of the active ingredients. Since the researchers had one hundred percent success in stopping horn growth with clove oil, and they did not offer any specifics about injecting technique, angle, depth, and so on, the strength of their oil was probably stronger than what is typically available in this country.

Which technique is best?

I don’t usually make a specific recommendation on practices. It seems like my answer to just about every question is “it depends.” But in this case, there is only one proven option that has a long history of success in goats. If you want to stop horn growth, a disbudding iron is the safest option with the highest success rate.

 

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter!

My weekly newsletter includes recipes and articles on homesteading, raising livestock, health, and gardening.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

60 thoughts on “Goat Disbudding Options”

    • Clove oil disbudding:
      It worked as long as we injected clove oil every few days when we stopped the horns grew in. In the original study when they stopped the dehorned all the goats with a traditional iron so there is no way to know if it actually stopped the growth or if it delayed the growth like it did with our goats.

      Reply
      • In the study I linked to, they only injected once, and they followed the kids for 12 months. Photos of the kids’ heads are included in the study, so you can see there is no horn growth on the injected side, but they have a full horn on the other side. Are you thinking of the blogger who used clove oil on a couple of kids and then used an iron?

        Reply
    • Hi, I bought a male goat that was crypyorchid and had horns. I took him to the vet to have the descended and undescended testicles removed. The seller said she had tried to disbud him twice and advised that I have the vet do it when he had his testicles removed. The vet went too deep and the sinus cavity was exposed. We have kept the opening covered since. We now have mesh screening over the hole. He scratches his head which I think caused a hole in the second sinus cavity recently. We have been trying to get the hole to close for 6 weeks. He shows no signs of infection. Any advice? Is there a “skull cap” for goats?
      Thanks for any advice,
      Dee

      Reply
      • Sounds like the seller was totally new to goats and didn’t know how to disbud. Also, most breeders don’t “sell” cryptorchids. They either butcher them for meat or give them away because of the expensive surgery required for castration. Reputable breeders sell castrated males as pets.

        I can’t really answer your question without knowing what the hole looked like initially and what it looks like now. There should have been at least some closure if not the whole thing. You also didn’t say how old the goat was or how big the horns were. Depending on the age, holes in the sinuses are inevitable with dehorning. If there are horns, it is NOT disbudding, which simply means burning the horn buds. However, if this was a cattle vet without much goat experience, maybe a cattle procedure was used (scooping), which should never be used on goats. Without knowing more, I can’t really give you much useful information.

        You also didn’t say what you are doing “to get the hole to close.” There is nothing you can do to get the hole to close. So, I am wondering if you are doing things that are impeding the closure. Unless it was seriously botched, it should have closed by now. Or the hole should be much, much smaller than it was six weeks ago. You should not cover it or put any creams, liquids, or other potions on it. We once had a ram who lost a 4″ x 6″ piece of skin to a coyote, and it grew back on its own, so there is no reason that the skin should not grow back over the skull.

        If you buy other goats, I hope you’ll find an experienced, reputable breeder that has disbudded and castrated the goats before the sale. Disbudded castrated wethers sell for $75 to $150, depending upon what part of the country you are in, and I’m sure your vet bill was far more than that — not to mention the headache you and the goat are dealing with.

        Reply
    • We’ve been using the Rhinehart X-30 for calf/goat (1/2 inch diameter) for 16 years and really like it. Do NOT get the pygmy tip, even if you have smaller goats. It does not burn a large enough area to stop horn growth. Even with the 1/2 inch iron, bucks have to burned twice in a figure 8 to get all of the horn bud.

      Reply
      • I have Nigerian Dwarfs…would you still recommend 1/2 inch tips as opposed to 3/8? All of the websites selling Rhinehart states the 3/8 is the correct size for dwarf kids. Many thanks.

        Reply
        • Yes. I’ve seen really bad scurs on goats when people use those pygmy tips, even on doelings, which do not usually have scurs at all when done correctly. The 3/8″ tips are not big enough.

          Reply
  1. Have you made a video on disbudding or can recommend a link where I can learn more on disbudding with an iron?

    Reply
  2. Hello, I am new to goats, and my babies are 6 weeks now… I’d that to old. Who I got them from was a dairy Farmer and I didn’t know I needed to do this so soon. My 4-H lady says it’s fine since their only about 1in and still wiggly. Please please any advice

    Reply
    • By then they already have little horns, so it not really disbudding any longer. Now you’re getting closer to dehorning. If your 4-H leader is more into cattle than goats, they think nothing of dehorning, but it’s not as easy or safe for goats. Cattle are much bigger and have thicker skulls. If these are going to be unregistered pets, you could just try to find a nice pet home for them and remember the lesson learned. If they are males that will be wethered and used for food, then there is no reason to disbud them.

      Reply
  3. I would never disbud a kid without them being sedated. In the UK it’s illegal for anyone other than a vet to perform the procedure. My kids are knocked out, disbudded with a.disbudding iron with absolutely no pain. The sedation is reversed and they come round absolutely fine. My vet has done thousands of kids and has only ever lost one that was small and sickly and done at only 3 days. It’s very safe are far more humane than doing it without anaesthetic. I started to watch a video online of it being done without anaesthetic and had to turn it off as it was so upsetting. Sedation is definitely far kinder for the kids.

    Reply
    • Thankyou for writing that.
      I’m a licensed vet tech and common layman owners should do right by their herds and have qualified veterinary personnel using proper analgesia and sedation for this procedure.
      Livestock laws vary and just because owners indicate they’ve been doing it for years that way doesn’t make it ethical and proper in my book. Certain things are not to be done by common folk. If you’re going to be a responsible farmer. Consult proper veterinary teams. Or don’t handle animals..

      Reply
  4. Have you heard of banding the buds to disbud? I’ve heard of it..but not tried it. Our does are all naturally polled and our little cryptorchid male we left horned….we worked with him since birth and his horns have not been an issue…but I am sure that is because he is the only horned goat we have…just curious about using the banding method for future babies as I have access to a bander from a friend but do not have access to an iron.

    Reply
    • Banding should not be the method of choice. It is typically only done when someone buys a horned goat that they want dehorned. It is not a method of disbudding — as disbudding is killing the horn buds so that horns do not grow. Using a band is a method of dehorning because you do it after horns have grown. Dehorning is always a worse option than disbudding.

      Reply
  5. I had my first experience yesterday of one of my babies getting disbudded. I was absolutely traumatized and cried the entire day and I still have to do my other one in a week. I know it has to be done for all sorts of reasons. But it still looks painful and hard to look at. I haven’t found any information yet but is there a cream or ointment I can put on them to help with the healing process, like neosporin or other anti-bacteria cream to help with the itch?

    Reply
    • I have never put anything on my kids after disbudding, and we’ve never had an infection. The iron is more than 1000 degrees, so it kills everything and cauterizes the wound. I would worry about a cream interfering with the scab forming properly. I’ve had very few kids that wanted to rub their head on anything afterwards, but neosporin and antibacterial creams do not stop itching. When they do that, I just try to hold them a lot and pet them to take their mind off their head.

      Reply
      • Thanks so much for your reply. It helps to understand it a little better. Thankfully our vet gave her a tetanus shot beforehand and also sedated her with gas anesthesia. Anyway thanks again. Have a great day!

        Reply
  6. I love this thread thank you so much ..
    I have two Alpine Pet goats 7 weeks old.
    They were terribly sick when I got them at a week. And chose to not stress them more and disbud, they have little horns, dehorning paste I just don’t know if that would work at this point? Do you ?
    And I was wondering if there is a filing process I could keep the horns down?

    Reply
    • Paste does not even work well at a week of age. At 7 weeks you have fully formed horns, and paste would do nothing. You are not even disbudding at that age. It would be dehorning, which I do NOT recommend. If you don’t want horns at this point, you need to take them to a vet so they can be anesthetized and dehorned.

      Reply
    • It depends on the horn buds. Some bucklings are born with very prominent horn buds, and it’s best if you disbud them within a few days. But most bucks should be done no later than a week. Doelings are usually much smaller. You may not even be able to feel the horn buds until they’re a week or 10 days old. Bottom line — just do NOT let them turn into little horns. The smaller they are when you do them, the quicker and easier it is.

      Reply
  7. Do you have any experience with an express gas inline disbudder (like what Coburn sells)? I’ve used the Rhinehart hot iron for many years but am just curious if you have experience with the gas disbudders. I’d like less contact time on the goat than I get with my Rhinehart unit.

    Reply
    • I have not used it. We’ve been using the Rhinehart X30 (regular goat tip) for 18 years — on our second one now — and we love it.

      Reply
  8. Oh. My. Gosh! I just got to the part in your book about disbudding. I didn’t know I needed to do this so early, but it totally makes sense. My babies are 1 1/2 weeks old!! My premie is 4 weeks(but his buds are smaller than everyone else’s. Am I too late to disbud? I’m calling my vet today.

    Reply
    • Totally makes sense that the premie’s horn buds are smaller than everyone else’s. We’ve disbudded some super tiny kids later than average because we can’t even find their horn buds until 2-3 of weeks (almost always doelings). You’re not too late. You’re probably perfect for the doelings. The buckling’s horn buds might be a little bigger, which just means they might take a few seconds longer to burn down. But they should be fine.

      Reply
  9. Okay, great! My vet is coming tomorrow. If we are selling 2 of the boys is it better to go ahead and disbud or sell them as is? I’m keeping the premie and the doelings, so I’m disbudding them for sure. Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Absolutely disbud the ones you want to sell. It is much easier to sell goats without horns. And if you don’t disbud them, they may be purchased by someone who decides they don’t want horns, and then they put them through the horror of dehorning.

      Reply
      • Okay, that’s what I was thinking. Plus, I didn’t want my little guys with horns to be ramming everybody else. Thanks:). I’m castrating the buckling that I’m keeping. My vet said he likes to do it around 2 months. I haven’t read about castrations yet…. Really enjoying your book! Hoping to try goats milk soap this week. I have gallons and gallons of milk:).

        Reply
        • Yes, goats with horns can become jerks if they realize they have the advantage. Two months for castration is what I go for. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the book!

          Reply
  10. I recently picked up a product called
    OW-EZE from molly’s Herbals that is suppose to help with pain. I am going to try this with disbudding

    Reply
  11. I am confused. According to the retailers online that I have found the Rhinehart X30 comes in 3 sizes: 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2”. I know you said to NOT choose the pygmy 1/4”. So then, the remaining sizes are: 3/8” and 1/2”.

    On your February 4, 2019 reply you made to a question/ comment you wrote (I’m copying and pasting the exact wording of the reply), “The 3/8″ tips are not big enough.”

    But then you wrote above within the article, “ I don’t recommend using a calf tip because that’s too large. ” Yet on all the retail websites I’ve checked, the 1/2” tip is called the calf tip. But you also wrote in comments on March 5, 2018, “ We’ve been using the Rhinehart X-30 for calf/goat (1/2 inch diameter) for 16 years and really like it. ”

    So, just to be 100% certain in order that I purchase the correct Rhinehart X30 size, do you recommend the 1/2” tip (whether or not it has “calf” in the description/name)?

    I’m sorry to seem dense. I just want to make certain I’m buying the correct item. Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • I am so sorry! When I wrote in the article that I don’t recommend the calf tip, I was thinking of the Rhinehart X-50. You want the 1/2″ tip. The best photos I was able to find online that shows all three is here:
      https://www.jefferspet.com/products/x-30-electric-dehorners
      They have pictures of all three sizes, and the two smaller ones are labeled as pygmy tips with the sizes.

      I will edit the original article right now to make this clear. Thank you pointing out that it’s confusing.

      Reply
  12. My friends have around 30 goats on their property, all with horns and I’ve had the pleasure of staying with them and doing the barn chores and handling the goats for the last 6 months. There is no reason to disbud your goats. It’s an unnecessary and cruel practice. They have been raising horned goats (Kinders) for the past 10 years and they have never had injured goats, injured people, or ANY issues due to their horns. Head butting is what goats do and there is no reason to deprive them of that. The worst that can happen is they get their head stuck in the fence but maybe just consider the type of fencing so they can’t stick their head through the holes. It’s a myth that horns are dangerous and my friends have been trying to educate people on this for years. Give goats a little more credit..they are extremely resilient animals and can handle their own horns just fine!

    Reply
  13. As a “retired” holistic veterinarian, I am surprised no one mentioned the practice of using a castration band to dehorn kids that are too old to use a disbudding iron, to big adult bucks and does. I do this easily on a stanchion. It is a simple procedure… no sinus cavities are exposed, and the horns usually fall off in less than a few weeks. You have to cut a tiny grove In the skin at the base of the horn to hold the band so it doesn’t pop off. I use a tiny straight hand saw. I’ve never had a problem with this procedure and there are no scurs. Don’t forget to give a tetanus shot.

    Reply
  14. We have a herd of 30 goats and have been taking the kids to someone who has used a Rhinehart to disbud, the bucklings are burned twice in a figure 8 to prevent scurs.

    We’ve been shopping for the “right” solution for us and trying to get the nerve to do it ourselves, we have full-sized Nubians, Mini-Nubians, and Nigerian Dwarfs. We are looking at the Rhinehart X-50A wit the 1/2″ goat tip because they are now making an interchangeable teardrop shaped tip for bucks! (it’s not available for the X-30) We thought that would be a bonus as they wouldn’t have to be burned additionally to create the figure 8.

    Have you either an opinion or experience with this? We’re just trying to minimize the time the iron is on their heads and doing all the research we possibly can in advance. Thank you so much for your excellent articles! We love following your site!

    Reply
    • I would not use an iron with removable tips unless I knew that it would get hot enough. Years ago we helped someone who had purchased a disbudding iron with interchangeable tips, and after multiple phone calls and emails, it sounded like they were not successfully disbudding their kids, so they brought the kids to us, as well as the iron they bought. The iron did not get hot enough, and the kids had not been disbudded in spite of the fact that the owner had burned them over and over. We’ve been using the X-30 with the .55 tip for 19 years and love it. It gets very hot, so it’s quick. We are on our second one now, as the tip eventually flaked away and got too thin to do a proper job.

      Reply
  15. I took my goats to the vet to be disbudded. They were 8 days old. She didn’t burn them enough and now the horns are growing. I called to make an appointment to take them back and she’s making me wait another week. They will be a month old and the horns are getting so big. Can she burn them again or will they have to be dehornned? My daughter is planning to show both of them in 4-H and they must be disbudded. We’ve been taking them to this vet practice for 5 years with no problem, but the vet that usually does it wasn’t there the day we went.

    Reply
    • I am so sorry to hear that. Are you sure the vet knows about this, and it’s not just the receptionist who doesn’t understand that this is a time-sensitive procedure that will just get worse for the kids in another week? At a month, they should not be so long that you wind up with an opening into the sinus cavity like you do with dehorning, but it will probably be a much worse procedure because there is blood flow to what has grown, so there will be some blood, and it takes quite a bit of time to burn down an inch or even a 1/2 inch of horn. Sounds like you got a new vet who doesn’t know how to disbud a goat. I’d be sure that the main vet knows this, so hopefully the new vet can be educated about the mistakes she made.

      Reply
    • You really need to have someone take a look at the horn buds to see what was done incorrectly. If horns are growing, you probably didn’t do it correctly, and if you just do the same thing again, it will probably fail again. Years ago someone bought goats from me and “thought” they had disbudded them twice. I finally told them to bring the kids over here, and they had not done hardly anything towards actually disbudding. This is not fun for the goats, so you want to do it correctly so that it doesn’t have to be done again.

      Reply
  16. That’s nice for you but alot of smaller farm areas have a shortage of vets in general or no vets that specialize in farm animals in their area so to say your way is best is reaching.

    Reply
  17. I’ve had goats for 8 years and year one had the vet disbud our new kids at 10 days. I asked if I could bring them back if scurs developed. Well, all developed scurs. Hauling the now much stronger goats back to the vet was more than I could tackle. Been doing it myself each year now and have had many lessons learned. The so called copper ring that is described as an indication of a completed procedure has always been less that successful. This year I did some things different and would like your take on them.
    Took enough time to allow the iron to reheat between right and left horns and burning down through the tissue that is the cap on top of the bud. Removing that cap is (I hope) the key. Do you stop at the onset of the copper ring or do you tend to the details of removing the fleshy cap?

    Reply
    • A copper ring is not an indication of a completed procedure. It is just step one. You must pop the cap off and then turn the iron sideways to burn the top of the horn bud so that the entire horn bud is copper colored. The “cap” is basically the skin that is covering the horn bud. You have to burn the entire horn bud, not just a ring around the horn bud. In bucks you may have to burn more of a figure 8 than just a single ring.

      You mentioned the vet disbudding at 10 days. It’s really better if you can do bucklings at 5-7 days. Does are fine up to 2 weeks, but bucklings need to be done younger. Their horn buds grow crazy fast.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the super fast reply.
        I think your suggestion regarding the figure eight goes right along with getting after those bucklings sooner than a week old. Then you don’t have a point that would interfere with the lateral repositioning of the iron. So in your experience, in a top view with the buckling’s nose pointed at you, where would the secondary or other part of the figure eight be at… three-o-clock, twelve-o-clock?

        Reply
        • It will depend on where you place the iron initially, but in our case, we usually have to burn closer in the direction of the nose. Our scurs usually come from the front of the horn bud. So, if you see where your scurs usually grow from, that will give you a clue where you need to be burning more. I think most people tend to shy away from the eyes, which is not a bad thing. Rare I see scurs growing from the back of the horn bud. Usually they are growing from the front, closer to the middle.

          Reply

Leave a Comment

Join me online