To Dehorn or Not To Dehorn .... That is the question?
Many people wonder if they should buy horned or disbudded stock or if they themselves should disbud/dehorn the offspring. I own both horned and disbudded stock so I have an inside view on both sides of the spectrum. From my personal standpoint, I prefer disbudded does to work with on a daily basis being a breeder that spends a great deal of time with the livestock. Here are some things to consider to help you decide which best suites your needs as a goat owner:
Horned goats are better equipped to protect themselves and their offspring if dogs, coyotes, or other predators pose a threat to them and their environment. Horns should be left on a goat if you plan to leave your goat roam freely on a large number of acres in search of food or where you will not be able to be with them on a daily basis and can not inspect the fencing to ensure their safety. However, one major thing to consider with horned goats is the type of fencing you plan to use. If you use a panel fence, tube gates, woven wire fence, or some other type of fence that the goats can come in direct contact with, the goats will get stuck. Sometimes they can get their horns caught in the fence resulting in horns breaking off and possible uncontrollable bleeding which can result in death. Or, they can become caught in the fence and while they are struggling to get free, the fence can twist around the neck and strangle them. If you are planning to leave horns on goats, electric fencing is a "must have". Even if you use woven wire or panel fencing, you should also run a few strands of electric fence on the inside parameter of the fence to keep the goats off of the woven or panel fencing. Electric will keep them from being entangled in the fence and reduce the risk of death.
Another important factor to consider with horned goats is the risk to their offspring. Also the risks to the other goats they are in contact with. Broken legs become a problem when young kids are jumping on their mother in a playful manner and their leg becomes caught between her horns or older goats get their legs caught between the horns of another goat and are being drug on the ground and can not get free. There is also the risk of lost pregnancies from does being butted or the risk of death to young kids when another doe butts them out of the way.
There are also risks to you as a goat owner when you are handling goats with horns. You have to learn how to handle the goats and learn where not to put your hands, head, and arms. Never put your hands or any body part on the neck of a horned goat just behind the horns. If the goat jerks back, your wrist or other body part is now caught between the horns and it is likely to result in a broken or sprained wrist, etc. You have to watch where you put your head when hoof trimming or vaccinating so you dont lose any eye when the animal jerks trying to get away from you. Horns can also be helpful when restraining an animal. To hoof trim our horned bucks we tie them up by their horns leaving no slack in the rope while we work on them. This limits their movement greatly and it doesnt hurt the animal. Horns serve as leverage to allow you to better control the animal especially boer bucks or other goat breeds that have the potential of becoming massive in size. Large breeding bucks should be left horned as a way to control the animal. If a buck becomes aggressive you need the horns to use as leverage until you can get away from them. A large disbudded buck can ram you and there is no way to restrain them. When working around bucks you might also want to consider purchasing some personal protective gear such as a bull riding vest or chaps to help protect yourself when working with them or with aggressive does. In my experience, horned goats are not as friendly as goats without horns. They tend to have more of a dominant attitude and are very defensive when you try to touch them.
Some people are concerned about owning a breeding boer buck because they worry about their young children with these animals. Boer bucks typically dont develop an aggressive attitude until they reach maturity around 3+ years of age. Some bucks will never develop and aggressive attitude. Be careful when you are handling these bucks and dont play with them when they are little by pushing them around or butting heads with them because as they get older, they are still playing but now they have the potential of hurting you. You can pet them in a gentle manner and handle them with respect. If you as a parent are concerned about owning a buck but yet want to breed boers, there is a solution other than AI. Boer bucks can start breeding between 4-6 months of age. When your does are ready to be bred, purchase a young buck to breed them to and you can continue using the same buck until he reaches almost maturity and then sell him and buy another young buck. By this time, chances are, the first buck is almost used up on your herd anyway if you have kept any of his daughters so it is time to find a new bloodline. Also, you can normally sell a mature or close to mature breeding buck for a lot more money than you paid for a young one.
If you are planning to spend a great deal of time with your goats and want a friendly doe, the only way to go is to buy a dehorned/disbudded or natural polled doe so they never develop horns. Even the best dehorning job in the world can sometimes produce scurs which are tiny pieces of horn that continue to grow after the animal has been disbudded. Scurs normally only develop to be less than an inch in height but can look unsightly. Most of the time if a scur develops the goat will break it off when they are butting heads and it wont grow back. If the scur is attached to the skull it is best to leave it alone. If it is only attached just below the skins surface and you can feel it moving around under the skin, you can remove it by pulling it out with a pair of pliers and it wont bleed or grow back unless there was a slight attachment to the skull.
Dehorned or disbudded does cause less problems to the other animals, humans, and their offspring. Even if you purchase a goat with horns and have the horns surgically removed, you will notice the difference it makes in the goats attitude. Disbudded animals tend to be much more friendly and sociable. I havent ever had a disbudded doe try to hurt me in any way but they would much rather rub up against you or have you scratch their head.
Now you can make an informed decision on wether or not to disbud your animals.
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