Almost from the moment you start raising goats, you will be faced with one of the largest debates in the caprine world. Horns, or no horns. The opinions differ from person to person, and even industry to industry. You’ll find that the meat goat industry is for horns, while the dairy goat industry is against horns. So if you are a pet or hobby raiser, how do you decide which is the right course for you and your farm?
I also started as a hobby raiser. My goats were Nigerian Dwarf crosses, a miniature dairy breed. I thought the horns were beautiful and decided that I would allow my goats to keep their horns. The horns are used to help disperse heat from the animal, something I thought would be very useful, living in Central Texas where it gets quite hot. I thought also, the horns would be a good deterrent against predators. Plus it was natural. While it is true that horns are a natural radiator in goats, I found out very quickly that horns will not help a goat under attack. My favorite goat was mauled badly by a dog, despite her large formidable horns. I was lucky: she survived and with much care, healed and suffered no lasting harm except for a torn ear.
With that I learned two valuable lessons: horns are not protection, and domestic dogs are one of the most common causes of livestock attacks. Still, I was determined to allow my goats to keep their horns. Until about the fifth time I untangled one goat from the fencing. Then I went online and began to research further into the matter, and found that the cons of allowing goats, especially dairy goats, to keep their horns was greater than the pros. I read about one owner who had a doe (female goat) get trapped in the fence much like mine had, but in her case, it was dogs that found her poor goat before she did.
They can also die of dehydration if trapped on a hot day when you are not home. Horns can break off during a fight, causing a painful bloody mess. Even the sweetest goat can accidentally harm you by an unfortunate movement of the head at the wrong time, as I also learned and now sport a scar from. Bucks (male goats) with intact horns, even when not aggressive, can cause some substantial damage to fencing and housing by rubbing their horns against it. Dairy goats cannot be shown with horns intact, so if you ever move from hobby goats to registered stock to improve your lineage, you will face this trouble as well. Which of course brings you to the final key point of all these discussions: disbudding. Disbudding is the act of using a very hot iron to burn the horn buds on a young kid to prevent future horn growth.
While it sounds grotesque, it is a valuable skill many goat raisers learn to do themselves. The skull of a goat is very thick (remember, they use their heads as battering rams) and the pain is quickly forgotten by the youngster. The other methods for horn removal in older goats are not near as quick or as easy, so it is always recommended that if you are going to remove horns, you disbud them as kids. Talk to your local goat raisers – if you do not wish to learn this skill, you can certainly find someone to help you out. In the end, it’s a rare person that will not buy a goat because it is disbudded, but you will find that quite often, people will pass on your goats because they are horned.
Horns are beautiful and I do still enjoy the look of a goat with a majestic pair, however, when it comes to my herd and not just their safety, but my own, I have changed my mind and choose to disbud.