Recently, I received a help inquiry from a young woman in western Ireland. She had rescued a young, badly neglected Old Irish Goat 2-year-old buck from a place not able to care for him properly. Although he is good natured, she plans on neutering him for family safety and also wishes to get him dehorned. This is not an easy proposition at that age.
I once had a doeling with significant scurs (partial horn regrowth) at 18 months old. I decided to try a surgical removal. Although the vet did a great job and she did recover, I swear that for at least two weeks I could see straight into the brain.
Substantial horns that have become an integral part of a mature skull are not candidates for either surgery or c-bands at the base. Therefore, size matters. As Gary Pfalzbot of the website GoatWorld comments on c-bands or elastrator banding:
“The first step using this method involves determining if your goats horns are long enough and large enough. Since every goat has a different growth rate, there is not really a young age which is best, but if you insist on knowing an age, let's say anywhere from three to four months old. The width of the horn at the base of the head is the most important factor. I generally follow my own rule of 'if the horn diameter at the head is at least the same diameter of a coin penny.' Likewise, if the horn diameter at the head is the width of a half dollar, you may not be able to easily slip the castration band all the way down to the base of the horn at the head.”
Furthermore, it may not stay there. Although I have not seen the horns on this particular buck, Old Irish Goats are known for their magnificent sweeping horns, so I am assuming that this boy is well on his way to not qualifying for banding.
I advised this young person to get the tips removed only (about ¾ inch). Although not the perfect solution, my experience with it has been satisfactory. I have a Nubian boy who, at 2 years old, was great with people but a terrible bully with herd mates. We decided to castrate him for herd safety. We had tipped his horns about a year before for similar reasons.
We found that the horn tips stayed very nicely blunt going on 6 years now. As commercial sheep and goat breeders know, wethers gain more body weight but have a much slower rate of horn growth. The pictures here show Aristotle (as buck, 2009, below) and Aristotle 6 years later (as wether, above).
It can be seen from this current (2016) photo at the top of the page that the horns grew very little in 6 years. Castration and horn blunting have made a huge difference in herd safety.
The moral of this story for goat packers who have goats with horns that have become an issue around the home or farm is that, depending on age and sexual hormone levels, there may be options less dire than surgical complete dehorning or banding at the base of the horn, which compromises your pack goat’s defensive capability and confidence on the trail.
Certainly talk to at least two vets before committing to any plan of action regarding full removal of horns from goats over the age of 6 months old.
Lauren Hall Ruddell operates Planet Goat in the Utah high desert, one hour west of Salt Lake City. As the name of the operation suggests, goats are the consuming passion. Nubian dairy goats provide milk and adorable baby goats yearly, while the wethers occasionally, and vigorously, earn their keep in the back country. Find Lauren online at Planet Goat, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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