It’s time for my annual vent-fest about dumb people who let their dairy goats grow horns. I hate horns on goats. I think all goats should be disbudded at the first sign of horn growth. This rule applies to all goats in my herd, even if they aren’t dairy. I disbud meat goats, fiber goats, ALL goats on my farm. If the horns are small enough to fit in the disbudding iron, I am going to cauterize them.
The only goat who is allowed to have horns right now is Ruby, my Boer doe who I bought pregnant and horned. The main reason I bought her is because she is pregnant and I fully intend on keeping her kids, disbudding them, and eating her at the first chance I get in order to rid my farm of her horns.
I see so many ads on Craigslist and Facebook this time of year with perfectly good goats for sale but with perfectly awful horns. There have been so many good goats that I have been interested in buying that I won’t touch with a 10 foot pole because they are not disbudded. I think it is a disservice to the entire goat community to unleash horned goats on the unsuspecting public.
This week I was shocked to open my new parenting magazine and see an article on “10 Great Places To Take Kids” with the huge first page picture of a cute child holding a baby goat while a very large, VERY HORNED goat loomed in the background in a very ominous pose. The picture was taken at some fancy petting zoo / agro-tourism place. I couldn’t believe that a place like that would allow random children to play openly in a pen full of horned goats! There was another picture with the article of a toddler playing with some horned younger goats. She was petting one but the other goat was up on its hind legs in full “I am going to butt you in the belly with my sharp little horns” mode. Both goats horns’ were short (because they looked to be young goats), but pointy enough and sticking up enough to be a very serious hazard for a toddler. I can’t imagine the tourist place’s insurance company would be very happy to learn about the dangers of keeping goats with horns, especially in a situation where the random public are allowed in close contact with the animals.
I have no love in my heart for goats with horns. You can give me every excuse in the book for why you would allow a goat to keep its horns, but I don’t buy it. People will say, “Oh, but horns are natural!” To that I say, nothing we do in farming is “natural”. We take goats out of their natural environments in the hills and valleys of Europe and plunk them in a stall in a barn. We limit their normal territories from acres and acres of free space to a 20’X50’ paddock. We take their kids and milk them twice a day for 10 months a year. Nothing about this is what a goat has evolved to do “naturally”!
Then people will say, “Horns are for protection from predators”. Well, if you think about it the most common predator of a goat is usually your dog or your neighbor’s dog. I have heard very few stories of goats being eaten by coyotes, wolves or mountain lions, but I have heard thousands of stories of goats being torn apart by Lassie and Rover. I have NEVER heard of a story where a goat was able to fend off an attacking dog by using its horns. If a dog is hell-bent on killing a goat, it will not be deterred by horns. Dogs prefer to chase their prey to exhaustion and then strike the belly or neck area, basically eviscerating the animal alive. Horns don’t help much in this situation because unless the goat is willing to attack the dog head-on until it is dead, the dog is not going to give up the potential for a kill. And in the wild (nature), most of the herd defense is done by the dominant buck goat. He is in charge of fending off predators and protecting the herd. He is prepared to fight a predator head-on and kill to protect his herd. In farming, where do we put our buck goats? They are usually sequestered far from the female herd in a small space of their own. I have never heard of a dairy goat owner running a mature buck goat with his does all the time, year round.
After this I hear “Horns are used for temperature regulation so a goat doesn’t overheat”. WTF? If this was true then all horned goats would have froze to death in the Swiss Alps a long time ago. If horns are so full of blood vessels that they dissipate enough heat in the summer to keep a goat cool, then wouldn’t horns be an extreme heat loss problem in colder climates during the winter? Wouldn’t you hear northern farmers expounding on the necessity for disbudding in order to keep your goats warm in winter? I have yet to hear that.
Oh, then comes the “But I don’t want to hurt my baby goats by burning their horn buds with a red hot iron”. I say “GROW A SET!” Disbudding a baby goat is a 20 second procedure that does not result in long term pain. Every baby goat I have disbudded has returned to normal activity and energy levels within minutes of disbudding. I have seen long term pain and even death result from horned goats being injured by their horns or by other goat’s horns. I have seen goats gore each other with their horns. This was a fatal situation where one of the goats had to be put down. I have seen horned goats beat each other bloody with their horns. I have heard of multiple stories of goats getting their horns stuck in fences and either dying from exposure or dying from the stress of struggling to get free. Goats have hung themselves from feeders and fences with their horns. These problems from allowing a goat to grow horns sound like a hell of a lot more pain and distress than a 20 second round of disbudding.
So please everyone take the time to disbud your baby goats this year. If you do not have the equipment or cajones to do it, find someone who does. Everyone in my area knows that I have a disbudding iron and I travel to disbud for other people. I have no problems with making a trip to someone’s farm to disbud their kids at any time. I get so mad when I see perfectly good goat kids for sale this time of year who have been ruined by keeping them horned.