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Breeding any kind of livestock comes with a lot of challenging responsibilities. When we first dove into raising dairy goats, there were a lot of decisions we were faced with. When our first group of babies hit the ground, we were faced with a very important task – disbudding our goat kids.
What is Disbudding?
Disbudding is the practice of having a goat kid’s developing horn buds burned with a disbudding iron to prevent them from growing. It’s not a pleasant task. However, it takes less than 2 minutes, and if done by an experienced professional, the kids are up and playing within minutes, without the use of any pain medication.
Why We Do It
We choose to have our kids disbudded because they are primarily dairy and show goats, and horns are not allowed in ADGA shows. Disbudding allows our babies to be placed in better quality homes, even the wether boys who will not be shown. When placing a goat in a pet home, horns are usually not desired, and we want all of our wethered boys to find the best possible homes.
Another reason we choose disbudding is for the safety of the goats and the people they live with. Horns often get caught in fencing, and can result is a broken neck, dehydration or serious stress on the goat. Horns can also seriously injure another goat or the person handling them.
We understand that horns help to regulate body temperature. We know that horns can help goats defend themselves. However, it’s hard to take that argument seriously when so many goat owners resort to putting tennis balls, foam pipe insulation, sticks, etc. over a goat’s horns to try to keep them from getting caught in fencing. No goat with tennis balls over the tips of it’s horns is going to be defending it’s self against anything. We are aware that disbudding isn’t “natural” and that it causes pain. We have done our research and we know that what’s best for us, and our herd, is disbudding.
Doing it Ourselves
For first few seasons we paid other farms that we work with to do our disbudding for us. I had been observing, learning and weighing my options from the beginning, knowing that someday, this was going to have to be something I would need to learn to do myself.
A few seasons ago was finally the time for me to bite the bullet. After struggling to get dam raised kids transported to farms over an hour away for disbudding and risking undo stress to babies and possible rejection by their dam’s, it just made sense for us to be able to do the disbudding ourselves.
I chose to go with a Rhinehart x50 electric disbudding iron, as I had some experience using one with a goat breeder who was showing me how to disbud, and I felt most comfortable with it’s use. It’s also fairly affordable compared to other options. The thing that you have to be careful with using an electric iron is making sure it gets hot enough before you use it and making sure it maintains a good heat between disbuddings.
After using the Rhinehart electric iron for two seasons, it malfunctioned. Apparently some kind of ceramic cap inside the iron came loose, causing it to loose heat. It actually zapped my daughter with an electric charge. Unfortunately we didn’t realize that before almost loosing one of our kids to serious bleed caused by the iron loosing heat in the middle of the disbudding. It shook me up really badly.
After the issues with the Rhinehart, I decided to move to a butane disbudding iron. A butane disbudding iron burns hotter, faster, than an electric disbudding iron. The tip also has a thinner edge, making the cauterizing cleaner and faster. All of this results in less pressure used to apply the iron, and less time with the heat on the kid’s head. Plus, it’s super light weight and cordless. Win, win! After getting used to the new iron, I’m a convert.
To Disbud or Not to Disbud
Nobody enjoys disbudding – it’s one of my least favorite responsibilities on the farm. I also know that since this is our choice, it’s also up to us to make sure it’s done humanly and with as little stress on everyone as possible.
I have now disbudded over 100 kids on my farm and for a few close friends, with my daughter acting as my holder. While it hasn’t been picture perfect each time, I am gaining confidence and skill as I go. I am enjoying the freedom of being able to disbud each baby at just the right time for them, and to be able to put them back with their mom’s within minutes.
Disbuding is a choice each goat farmer must make for themselves, but for us, it means giving our goats the best life possible, whether it’s in our herd or someone else’s.