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By: Gary Pfalzbot, GoatWorld

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    Removing the horns from a goat is called disbudding or dehorning. Based on an ongoing GoatWorld poll, there seems to be an even split in the number of people who prefer to leave a goats horns intact or to have them removed. This article should help you decide which is best for you and your goat(s) as well as detail a basic procedure for removing them yourself.

    The horns on a goat serve different purposes of which you should be aware. First, horns act in such a way that they provide cooling to the goat in hot weather. Second, horns also provide an added defense against various predators as well as other goats. Third, a goat uses its horns in such a way that it can "get to that itch" on their sides.

    But perhaps most important for those of us who raise goats, horns can also be the cause of much pain and grief in your life as well as the goats. Goats are prone to herd infighting in which leadership is continually challenged. Goats will use their horns on each other in such a way that they can seriously injure another goat. And there are also some goats that will wait until you turn your back on them and use their horns on you!

    Then there's the case of Dingbat or Dumbo...that particular goat who believes the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and will get caught in the fence by sticking its head through and not being able to get out until you come to their rescue. You spend a few minutes wrestling with the head and horns to twist it in such a manner that you don't get your fingers caught in the process upon freeing them, only to discover that they've stuck their head through again and gotten caught not more than 5 minutes later!

    Before you decide for yourself whether or not to leave your goats horns intact or take them off, you should examine the situation closely and ask yourself a few important questions:

    1) Do you like the look of your goat(s) with or without horns?
    2) Is your goats behavior such that leaving the horns intact will not be a problem?
    3) Do your goats live in an environment where their horns will be more useful than not having them?

    You need to be really honest with yourself when answering these questions because disbudding isn't always the right answer. Getting rid of a goats horns isn't really too difficult and can be performed by just about anyone with time and the proper tools. The method I have used successfully for a number of years is called "elastrator dehorning". It involves the use of an elastrator and c-bands, also called castration bands or cheerios.

    Step One
    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. If this is the case, see below.

    Step Two
    You've followed step one and determined that you can proceed with the operation so now you are going to need the elastrator tool and a few castration bands. You are also going to need a glass of water. If you feed your goat any grain or goat chow, you might want to bring a little along as well for a distraction and peace offering to your goat. An assistant at this point isn't a bad idea either.

    Step Three
    With the described items in hand and an assistant to help, take a few of your castration bands and let them soak in the glass of water for a few minutes. The castration bands are much easier to apply when they have been wetted. Catch the goat you intend to disbud and have your assistant hold him or her firmly but be gentle. I've seen alot of folks get real excited when they get around goats and it's the last thing you want in this situation is to get the goat all revved up and unmanageable.

    Now that you have your goat secure and eating a little grain or hay, take one of the wetted castration bands and apply it over the four spindles on the elastrator. The spindles on the better elastrator tools usually have an indentation which holds the castration band in place. Since I am usually doing this procedure alone, I actually have the band on the elastrator soaking in water.

    Straddle the goat from the back and at this point, the goat is going to put up some resistance, but using your legs, you can usually gain control and with one hand, hold the goats head firmly while the other hand is operating the elastrator. With the spindle fingers pointing down, squeeze the elastrator handles to cause the elastrator to spread the castration band to its widest point and surround the horn and push the elastrator down as far as it will go on the horn, ideally catching some hair at the base of the head as well as the horn. You may have to try this procedure a few times to be successful, but if you stay with it, it will work. At times I also have to "roll" the band down to the farthest point with my fingers. Endeavor to get the band to the farthest point near the base of the head for the best success.

    Things to be aware of...
    Sometimes a horn will present a problem that just doesn't allow for the band to stick in place, tending to roll upwards. You can simply try to file or notch the point in the horn where you want it to be placed. I have tried this method many times but am now finding it much easier to instead tape the bands onto the horn where you want them. Duct tape works well. A few rounds of electrical tape also works.

    The first sign that your banding was successful is if the goat acts a bit uncomfortable when released. They will generally walk around and shake their heads and cry for about 10 minutes. This condition is only temporary and is a far cry better than burning, cutting or using dehorning paste. The bands will eventually cause each horn to fall off on its own. When exactly is largely depending upon the weather. Over the years I have noticed that horns fall off faster (within a few weeks) in warmer weather than in cold weather. During this whole process it is a good idea to keep an eye on the goats you have banded simply because bands can break due to a variety of conditions. If one band does break, simply reband it.

    The last thing you will want to watch for is in a few weeks when the horns are about to fall off. It is sometimes during this time that the goat may feel a bit of discomfort as well since all during the time they have had their horns banded, they are still using their horns as usual. Some goats will present with a loose horn or set of horns and if you banded low enough, you will get the entire horn removed in the process. There can be some blood but some goats will just one day appear without horns, no incident.

    Please resist the urge to help a loose horn off by taking it off yourself. Once the horn is loose, the bands will continue applying an even pressure and rolling inward in such a way that they apply pressure to the main blood vessel at the base of the horn. Just be aware of either case and you will be in good shape and ready for any situation that presents itself.

    I can honestly say in all my experiences of disbudding goats using this method (probably at well over 1,000 now), I have never had one goat die as a result of using this method. A few botched jobs and unicorn goats, yes. But never yet a goat that has suffered permanent damage or bled out as a result.

    Some goats, especially older ones, have horns so large that regular c-rings will not fit onto the horn far enough down. Thses can be treated by using a bull castrator in which surgical tubing is applied and tightened much in the same fashion as using the elastrator tool.

    Below are some pictures of successful banding using the elastrator and c-ring method:

    You'll notice that the band is still attached on the horn and that the blood vessel is also present in the removal. The vessel must be removed to prevent scurs from occuring. I won't try to tell you that every banding job will end without scurs, but after you have mastered getting the c-rings onto the horn as far down as you can, you too will get these results with no scurs. Scurs can be treated in the same manner as horns - simply reband them.

    About the author: Gary Pfalzbot is the webmaster of GoatWorld. He has raised goats over the years, been involved with 4-H (as a young boy) and currently resides in Florissant, CO, situated within the Rocky Mountains. He and his wife Pam began raising a few breeds of goats, mainly precipitated for the control of Kudzu vine. They now primarily author the GoatWorld web site to continue to inform, educate, and promote the industry and those persons who are interested in goats.

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