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.