Friday, February 5, 2010

Disbudding the Kids

The thing I dislike most about taking care of the goats is the necessity of disbudding them. This is the process of burning and cauterizing their horn buds when they are young kids to prevent their horns from growing.

You might ask - "Then why do it?"  Well, the alternative is having goats with horns.   This is probably okay for meat goats that will be out in the pasture and need their horns for protection.  But, you see ... I raise dairy goats in goat yards and horns can be dangerous when they get into disagreements with each other.   I've had a few goats in the past with horns and they were always getting caught in the fencing and the hay racks.  So ... on my goat dairy the goats will not have horns.

The best time to successfully disbud the kids is when they're between a week and two weeks old.  Basically when you can feel the horn buds, but before they come through the skin.  If you wait too long, there is a better chance for horn skurs to develop that will cause problems for the rest of the goat's life.

Skurs can also develop if the disbudding iron isn't hot enough.  So, when I'm ready to disbud the kids, I plug in the disbudding iron first to make sure it has enough time to get hot before starting.  Then I gather the other things I'll need ... hair clippers to trim the hair off of the horn bud ... kid box to hold the kid safely while I burn the horn buds ... Fight Bac spray to cool the burn and prevent infection ... bottles of warm milk to give them as soon as they're disbudded - this makes them forget all about it and makes them happy again!

To prepare the horn buds for disbudding, the first thing I do is trim the hair off of the horn buds.  This helps me see the horn buds better when I'm burning them.  It also makes less smoke since there is not as much hair to burn.

Clipping the hair from the horn buds

Horn buds trimmed and ready

The next thing I do is to test the disbudding iron on a piece of wood to be sure it's hot enough.  Here is the top of my kid box where I've tested the iron several times in the past.  You can see the good ones where it's hot enough for a good quick disbudding and the ones where the iron just isn't quite hot enough yet.

Testing the iron

When the iron tests hot enough, I put the kid into the box. I built the box with a hinged top to easily get the kid inside and strong enough for me to sit on when I'm disbudding them. (I'll post the plans to build the kid box in a few days.)

Kid in the kid box

After getting the kid securely into the kid box, I sit on the box and hold around their neck just behind their head to keep their head from being pulled back inside the box.  I padded the neck opening in the box with soft leather to keep them more comfortable while holding them.  And, there is an angled platform built onto the front of the box just under the neck opening to securely hold their head during the disbudding process.  This keeps them from moving around and keeps me from getting burned by the iron.

Securely holding the kid

Once the kid is in the box and held firmly, don't delay.  Get the disbudding completed as quickly as possible.  It's stressful for the kid ... and for you ... so get done quickly.

Position the hot disbudding iron just over the horn bud (it should be easy to see with the hair trimmed off of it) ... take a deep breath and commit to the burn.

This is where you have to firmly hold the kid's head to keep it from moving around and firmly hold the disbudding iron on the horn bud.  I rock the iron around a little during the burn to be sure it gets a good burn/cauterize all the way around.  Don't twist the iron, just rock it a little in all directions.  This gives a better chance for a good clean burn and not having horn skurs grow later.

Applying the disbudding iron

I usually hold the iron on for the count of 10 ... but that's not a hard fast rule.  What you are looking for is a copper colored ring around the horn bud like in the photo below. 

A copper colored ring

This cauterizes the nerves and blood vessels as well as keeping the horn bud from growing.  The kid will probably scream a lot ... most of that is from being confined in the box.  If they move around or you slip during the burn, pull the iron back to keep from burning an area not intended to be burned.  Then re-apply the iron to get the copper ring.  (The ring may look white instead of copper.)  Don't hold the iron on the horn bud too long at any given time though.
My first kidding season ... I was very timid about the disbudding and didn't hold the iron on long enough.  I ended up with horns growing anyway.  So the goats had to go through being dehorned when they were older.  This was a very unpleasant thing and more susceptible to infection.  So it is much better to be bold about getting the disbudding done correctly when they are very young and the horn buds are only beginning to grow.

Quickly go on to burn the other horn bud.  You don't want to cause any more stress than necessary so it needs to be done quickly.

Burning other side

As soon as I have both horn buds burned, I spray Fight Bac on the buds.  This cools them and helps prevent infection.

Spraying with Fight Bac

I get the kid out of the kid box and give him a bottle of warm milk.  Oh .. I almost forgot ... I always wait several hours after their last feeding before disbudding them to be sure they have an empty stomach.  This helps them have less stress during the process and insures that they take the comforting bottle quickly.

A bottle of warm milk to make it all better!

They seem to forget all about the whole process by the time they have finished the bottle. 

The little caps on the horn buds will fall off in a few days and the hair will grow back.

We disbudded 24 kids yesterday afternoon.  I did the disbudding and then handed them off to Mom to give them their bottle.  Even with the team work ... it took us just over 3 hours to complete!  Whew!  I'm glad the first batch of kids are done.


Rebecca of Sunny Morning Farm said...

Brenda, Brenda, Brenda you are a Wonder Woman!!! I have not, could not and will not ever disbud a baby goat myself!!! Danny did our babies for the first time last year and I watched the first 2. I was a basket case and was so afraid that he didn't know what he was doing and made him stop too soon on one of them. Of course he got some scurs but he was a meat goat anyway. The next one he did while I was gone and did a great job on it!!!

The first time Danny witnessed this however, he almost passed out!! Turned green and almost threw up!! I just thought he was a tough guy! He said it was because the babies were crying!! Hahaha I can't stand that part of farming that's for sure!!!

24 in 3 hours my oh my!!! Wonder Woman, did your cape not get in the way?

goatgirl said...

I am not looking forward to this but this is the year I have to learn. In the past I got anyone I could to disbud for me. This year I must learn to do it myself. I shall reread this post several times.
Thanks....and Hi Marg

Linda said...

Perfect! Thank you for that!! I am very, very interested in the plans to make the box...

Brenda said...

LOL!! Wonder Woman?? Sorry .. no cape here! But, thanks though!

I'd like to say that this job gets easier to do, but I really don't like doing it. I only do it because I know it has to be done.

The first year I did it, I was a wreck! I was so afraid that I would hurt them. Then I saw what happened to the goats because I wasn't bold and firm enough. I learned from that mistake and did much better the second year. I only had one horn that grew out of the 60 or so kids that we had last year. I thought that was pretty good!

I'm hoping that this year's disbudding is as successful. I think we're off to a good start. All of the kids are bouncing and playing like nothing happened.

~Tonia said...

I was also to Easy or to nice as my vet said the first time I did it for myself.... Its tough and its still hard to do but really its only a few minutes per goat and then they quit... Unless it was like Moses... but he is a character anyway!! I have Felt the affects of horns and pulled them out of fences and hayracks to many times. A few of those times thinking I would have to get bolt cutters to get them out.. But a quick smash of my hand and They were out! I disbud all of ours from now on. That is a lot of disbudding though!!

Marg said...

Hi back to you goatlady. I am still trodding along with feeding the babies. I have a bad back and can't hardly straighten up when I get out of bed in the mornings, old age. lol But since the babies are all taking their bottle without me having lifting them each out and setting them on my lap and the straining my back of getting them to learn how to eat, it is getting much easier and faster now.
Last year was my first time I watched with the disbudding and I cringed a little with their hollering, but not this year. It goes so fast then after their bottle, they are fine then. So all goes well, and they are so pretty without those awful looking horns to poke others with. They all go thru the pecking order to see who is going to be the boss above others.
Last year we bought one that had long horns and being new to the herds, they would run her away and she tried to go thru the fence. Every time I looked out there, she had her head stuck thru the fence. Stray dogs or coyotes can make an easy kill on one like that. We finally got her dehorned. It is so much easier to do it when they are babies and it is over fast.

Laura said...

Really informative post, thank you. Looking forward to the plans for the box.

goatmilker said...

That is what we also have to do and let me tell you I still don't like it after all these years.Feels so nice to get it accomplished though. Have a great day Rebekah.

Linda said...

We went and had Rosie disbudded today. I was going to try my hand but chickened out. I should have went ahead and did it because next time I HAVE to do it! lol

Brenda said...

I hope Rosie did okay. You'll probably have to get a small disbudding iron for your small babies. I'll get the kid box plans posted soon. That's the only way I can do it by myself. I tried to disbud one time with a friend holding the kid and it was a disaster. I had a hard time not burning her and she couldn't keep the kid from moving around. The kid box is a wonderful tool.

Linda said...

Rosie did great with the disbudding. They make an insert for a regular disbudding iron to use on a small Nigerian or Pygmy goat. The regular irons are really expensive but we need it before Cali kids again. I need the regular one for Rosie's kids, at least in the beginning. So I don't think it would be economical to buy a small one and and large one...

Feral Female said...

Oh Brenda, I can sympathize about the disbudding. It is by far my least favorite job associated with the goats. Even wethering doesn`t bother me as badly as disbudding does.

Very informative post!

Linda said...

Brenda, one more question. What brand of disbudding iron do you use? The one the breeder used on Rosie was huge and looked awkward and heavy.

Brenda said...

Linda - I'm not sure what the brand is. They have them hanging on a rack at the feed store in town. I had a really big one made for calves the first year and did not do a very good job with it. So, I bought this smaller one the next year. It does a much better job, but I have to watch it to be sure it's hot enough.

Farmgirl_dk: said...

Oh are brave and accomplished and take such good care of your babies. My goat boys, Pete and Reggie, were disbudded at the farm I got them from and -poor Reggie- his weren't done correctly. He's got scurs that just drive him nuts...he's got that constantly itchy spot, right between the two little scurs.
I love how you give them a bottle of warm milk afterwards. That last picture is precious!

Brenda said...

Thanks, Farmgirl! I do love my babies! Well ... I love all of them! :D

Scurs can be such a real pain! I try to get them done right the first time. If the disbudding iron isn't hot enough or if it's not held on the horn bud long enough ... then scurs will probably grow. I have a couple from a few years back that have scurs that I have to trim occasionally. Sometimes they knock them off, but not always.

sheplan said...

Help! We just disbudded a little billy and he won't stop crying! Is this normal. The first goats we did stopped crying as soon as it was over, but this guy has been going on for a couple hours now. Is there anything I can put on it or give him for relief? Thanks so much

Brenda said...

Sheplan - email me at to make it easier to discuss your little buck.

If the iron was really hot or you left it on for longer than the count of 10 ... there may be some brain swelling. If that's the case he could use a shot of Dexamethasone to reduce the brain swelling. This is only available through a vet.

If the iron wasn't very hot and you didn't leave it on very long ... the nerves may not have been cauterized completely and it may be hurting. I use the Fight Bac spray to cool the burn because it is cooling and fights bacteria.

Usually a bottle of warm milk comforts them. But, if they are not used to drinking from a bottle, trying to get them to take a bottle just after disbudding can be very frustrating for both you and the kid.

I hope he's better really soon!

Charlotte said...

We got our pygmy goats debudded at 3weeks when we got them however theyir buds were only like 1/4 and the vet seemed to think there would be no problem. He did them both and now it's been three weeks and it is starting to look like the horn is coming through in a bigger circle outside the ring he burnt. What am I going to do, these are my kids pets and I am very worried! I made an appointment for the vet to see them on Monday but I am so nervouse about them. :(

Brenda said...

Charlotte, The ring around the bud may be the burned part of the horn bud getting ready to come off. They fall off at around 3 to 4 weeks. It sort of looks like a circle scab from a wound. The edges can be raised a little when it gets ready to fall off.

But, if the disbudding iron wasn't held on long enough, it could be new horn growth. But, new growth is usually the entire horn cap ... not just the ring around the horn. I'd almost bet that it is the horn bud getting ready to come off.

Best wishes for you and your little goats!

Mindy said...

I disbudded 2 kids a week ago. Both kids have the black scab, but 1 has a white lump(presumely a horn growing back)in the middle of the scab.Should I disbud it again? If so when should I redo it? It was my first attempt at disbudding. Please help me.