Goats: Horns or No Horns

Reader Contribution by Janice Spaulding
1 / 4
2 / 4
3 / 4
4 / 4

So what gives with all the baby boys this year? It has been so frustrating! Normally, when it comes to births, you can pretty much depend on a 50/50

split between bucks and does, or 49/51, worst case scenario is 45/55, however, out of 9 live births, only 1 girl???

Of course, the little bucklings that we’ve had are truly adorable and will grow up to be big strapping, healthy, breeding bucks, but, we need some girls! Two more does to kid, and hopefully we’ll straighten out the odds a little. Those left to kid are first fresheners (for those of you who are not familiar with the terminology this means, the first time a doe kids and come into milk) however, one poor girl looks like she’s going to explode at any minute and she still has 5 weeks to go! Triplet girls, maybe, please?

In my last post I mentioned I would be talking about disbudding, and I am going to touch on it, but this is not the whole story. Let me explain. The following is what works for us, it is something that we choose to do, other people may feel very differently and have had different experiences, and that is fine! Everybody has different management practices.

We do not disbud our males. We have disbudded our male goats in the past, and we have purchased bucklings from other breeders who disbud their goats as well. Intact males have oodles of testosterone, and most times, even though they have been disbudded properly, the excess hormones cause scur horns to grow. Scur horns should be re-named scourge horns because, believe me; they can cause some big time problems! We just put our two breeding bucks in the freezer because of scur problems. The first guy, Bat Man, a drop dead gorgeous Alpine, born here and disbudded here, had one horn that was growing so crooked that it continually irritated his ear. Our other big man was a very handsome Sable buck we purchased from a New York breeder at five months old. His horns were even worse than Bat Man’s. One of his horns continually needed to be trimmed because it threatened to grow right into his skull. Putting a two hundred or so pound buck on a fitting stand, and trying to hold his head still so that the horn could be trimmed with tree pruners is NOT a fun job. I am not strong enough to be able to hold him still, so twice a year we had to find someone willing to help out. Not a very pleasant job during rut, it did however, provide a good Goat School lesson.

We routinely disbud the doelings, mainly because we sell the majority of them. They are registered and there are children out there who want to show them at 4-H fairs and such.

I have to tell you though, that I struggle with the idea of disbudding a goat. I think horns are beautiful. Our dairy goats are the first goats we’ve had that haven’t had horns and in 24 years we’ve never had a serious problem.

There is an excellent article written by Robert I. Johnson titled  “Why Horns”. Mr. Johnson brings up some great points about horns being thermoregulatory organs, how horns serve as indicators of protein metabolism, how the horns act as great “handles”, and I could go on and on.The International Dairy Goat Association advocates the retention of horns; however, the American Dairy Goat Association does not. The world’s population of goats numbers approximately 800 million. Imagine trying to disbud all those goats!  It is only the United States that really pushes for the horns to be removed.

Parents often fear that a horned goat might put an eye out, and this could very well happen, however, I believe it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach children to be careful and mindful about goats horns as well as other animal handling practices.

And, please remember, removing horns from a fiber goat can cause serious problems in hot weather. As said earlier, horns are a thermoregulatory organ; they help to dissipate the heat from these heavily coated animals. Goats do not sweat, nor can they get rid of excess heat by panting. They can die from heat exhaustion. 

So, with all that being said, as soon as we have a goat that we can disbud, I will get some photos and do a whole post on the technique!

If you are interested in learning more about goat husbandry, come to Goat School! Our spring session is Saturday, June 2nd and Sunday, June 3rd, with a Soap and Cheese Making class on Monday, June 4th.There is still room, so come and enjoy Maine in the spring!

Visit our websites www.goatschool.com and www.mainegoats.com for more information about what we do and why we do it.

And, a little p.s. about my last post: Quite a few people asked me what I was doing crawling on the barn floor.
I was taking a photo of the goat’s butt, and while I was taking the photo, my husband (who thought it was quite funny) took a picture of me with my cell phone. So it’s a picture of a picture taker?