Raising Kids - Dehorning & Wethering

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 Goat Dehorning

Dehorning is a touchy subject in the goat world and rightly so. I can honestly understand both sides. There are those who believe that dehorning is cruel and goes against the natural biological makeup of a goat. There are others who believe that a horned goat, even if well behaved, is dangerous and could injure itself, a herd mate, a person or child unintentionally. You add wire goat fencing that horns can be tangled in and you have the risk of strangulation, or other injury.

Dehorning is my absolute least favorite part of raising goats. But it is often a necessary evil. Before you decide what to do about your kid’s horns it’s important to be informed. Make your decision well in advance of kid season because there is a small window of opportunity to perform a successful dehorning procedure.

The horns of a goat mainly perform two purposes. The first purpose, and maybe not as well known, is that a goat’s horns act like an air conditioning system in hot weather. The horns help regulate body temperature. This is why you never de-horn an Angora goat. The mohair fleece that the goat produces would easily overheat the animal and it could die in hot weather.

Goat DehorningThe second function of a horn, and maybe more familiar, is for a goat to protect itself. Goats often communicate by “butting” things. They play by butting, or can even show affection. Two of our girls ask for pets by “gently” ramming us in the thigh, (it’s bittersweet love). When a goat is threatened, the horn communication becomes more aggressive. When a goat is threatened it will lower its head and flatten its ears toward its attacker. The thick plate at the base of the skull and the sharp horns act as a great defense system, in some ways it’s like two swords and a shield ready to fight off predators, or a competing buck.

Because we have a mixed herd of fiber and dairy goats I’m used to being around goats with horns. All of our Angoras have horns, we also have two Nubians who came to us with horns past the point where it is safe to remove them (I’ll get more into that later).

We are lucky that none of our horned goats have caused injury to themselves or others. In our Angora herd the female’s and wether’s horns grow rather close to their heads. They curve back and mostly a smooth side is exposed, they present only a small danger. Sulley on the other hand, is our Angora buck. I consider him to be our most dangerous goat. Not because he’s a mean goat, but he’s lively and doesn’t understand that he has two 13 inch curling spikes sticking out from either side of his head. He wants to jump and play like all the other goats, but carries around two spears everywhere he goes. He is not allowed around children or visitors to our farm. He’s even caught my husband and I by surprise a few times accidently and we’ve had to nurse cuts and bruises caused by him. Bucks also become more aggressive during the rut and you combine 100 lbs of testosterone and over 2 feet of horns and Sulley can be a force to reckon with.

It’s not just the horns that are dangerous, but horns in combination with a goat’s rambunctious personality.Goat Dehorning Unlike other horned animals like sheep, goats are everywhere! They climb, jump up on things, people. They’re curious, determined and persistent which makes accidents much more likely with a horned goat.

Another reason to dehorn your goat is that most fairs like 4-H won’t allow goats with horns to be included. So if you intend on showing or selling your goats at any point, dehorning is something you definitely want to consider.

How to Dehorn

I don’t even want to go into too much detail here because I don’t want this to serve as an instructional. I just want to provide enough information so you can understand what happens in the dehorning process. Dehorning should be done by a Veterinarian or someone who is very, very experienced in the dehorning process. If dehorning is done wrong it can lead to brain damage or scurs later in life. Scurs are horns that grow back partially because the whole horn was not “deadened”. Scurs are hard to control, can be dangerous to trim and can grow willy nilly, sometimes curving into the goat’s skull. You also risk accidently burning yourself, or the goat kid in the eye or other places etc.

Dehorning should be done very early in the goat’s life. Within the first two weeks, before the horns break through the skin. If the horn is allowed to grow much beyond this point, it becomes very dangerous to remove because a main artery grows down the horn and a goat could easily bleed to death. Dehorning is done with a hot iron and the horn buds are burned, killing the cuticle and stopping further growth.

Many people use an iron meant for calves, but we’ve found that this leaves an unnecessarily large scar, as calve horn buds are much larger than goats. Instead, my husband being a blacksmith shaped a smaller Goat Dehorningsteel iron that we use. We shave the kid’s head and secure the kid in place. Then we heat the iron and hold it on the horn bud for the correct amount of time. We look for changes in color of the skin to ensure we’ve done it correctly.

It’s not a fun experience, but the goat kids bounce back quickly and it’s all over in a few seconds. Soon our kids are running and jumping around as if nothing happened. We can console ourselves by knowing that our goats will not cause injury later in life.

Wethering

A neutered buck is called a wether.

Wethering is another important decision that should be considered and decided upon well before your does gives birth. Unfortunately in the dairy world, bucklings are not as useful as doelings. This isn’t the case in the Angora world. Wethers produce more fiber than does and bucks. This is because their bodies don’t have to put forth energy to produce hormones for mating and birthing. Most wethers produce beautiful fleeces!

Before you decide to whether, there are some things to be aware of.

For most of the year a buck goat is like any other goat. Our bucks are gentle, friendly and sweet. But all of this changes in late summer when they go into rut. Rut is the sexual season for a male goat. Bucks in rut are…well…ridiculous!

They behave very, very strangely and they smell terrible! Some of the smell comes from a gland at the base of the skull that secretes a hormone that tells the ladies that he’s ready. The other smell is due to the habit of them urinating on their faces and beards. Bucks in rut will howl, flap their tongues, ride all of their herdmates, urinate on their faces and beards, rub on everything in site and can be aggressive towards you and other members in the herd, especially other bucks. They will also attempt to bust through fences and gates to get to your females.

Bucks can also effect the way the milk tastes in females. The buck emits a hormone that the female picks up on. Her body’s reaction to this hormone will effect how her milk tastes. It’s called “buck milk” and will taste musty and gross! This can happen year round so if you plan on keeping a buck, be prepared to have an area to keep him away from your milking does.

If you plan to sell him as a buck or loan him out in stud service, be sure you have some interested parties. Make sure his lines are worth reproducing. People are usually finicky about keeping bucks and want a quality stud if they’re going to let him sire their herd. If you plan to use him in stud service know that as he visits other farms he could potentially bring back diseases from other goats to your herd.

So…once you’ve considered all of this, if you decide that you’re ready and prepared for the challenge of raising a buck, then there’s nothing to be done but let him grow into the strapping lad he’s always meant to be.

If not, then he should be wethered within the first two months of life. We wether using a banding system. We use a banding tool that stretches a small rubber band wide open. The stretched band is placed over the testicles up to where the scrotum meets the belly. The tool is gently released and the prongs slide out leaving the band to restrict blood flow to the testicles. Eventually the sac shrivels and dies. Leaving the goat smooth and wethered. If you are concerned at all about wethering your own goat, please contact your veterinarian for further instruction.Goat Dehorning

There is so much more to raising kids that comes in the doing. I remember a time before we started with goats… reading article like this one feeling like my head was spinning. But don’t let intimidation scare you away from the joys that these beautiful animals can add to your life. Take each moment at a time, each procedure calmly and remember, if you are unsure about anything, ask a professional. Goat kids are worth every bit of time and effort that you put into them.

 

For more information on Raising Kids, check out Raising Kids - Nutrition, Udder Care and Digestion.

Jennifer Sartell - Professional Homesteader & Blogger

Jennifer Sartell - Professional Homesteader & Blogger

Jennifer Sartell is the primary care taker of all animals on her and her husband’s farm in Fenton, MI. With a passion for living a simple life, Jennifer enjoys creating art, taking in nature, raising animals and has developed a deep appreciation for homesteading. Jennifer and her husband, Zach, currently raise goats and poultry. Her vast amount of experience on the farm includes, but is not limited to: milking, shearing, hoof trimming, vaccine administration, assisting in animal births, dehorning, egg collecting, chick and turkey hatching, feeding, watering, etc. She can also cook a mean farm-to-table meal and when the day is done has documented and photographed their day on the farm.

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