Horns

Goats Don't Need 'em, You Don't Want 'em,
So What Do You Do About Them?

Horns on goats are a very controversial topic.

I really do not know why.

For anyone as a 'backyard goat keeper'  there is no reason for your goats to have horns, and many, many reasons for them to NOT have them. It is as simple as that.

That is where the simplicity seems to end...


"The modern goat is normally hornless."
from Self-Sufficient Country Living (1978) by Derek S. Savage


What a load of...goat berries! Horns on the "modern goat" are pretty much the same as they have always been.

Goats (with very rare exceptions) are born with horns.

Now, as any woman could tell you, they can't possibly have horns when they are born (ouch!), but they do have what are called 'horn buds' or 'horn buttons.'

Horn buds are small little bumps on the top of the head, between the ears and above the eyes on baby goats.

These buds, or buttons, can be felt under the hair by rubbing your finger or thumb over the top of the kid's head. They will be round bumps that feel just like... buttons.

You will want to push them to see what they make the goat do! (If you do, and the goat 'beeps' or does anything else cool, call Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not! and cash in on that baby!)

These buds will start growing into horns as soon as the kid is born.

Within a week, or so, the tips will start to show above the hair.

By the end of the first month, these buds will need to be removed, in a process called disbudding.


This kid is only one week old!

This is a buck, and bucks grow their horns much bigger and faster than does (or wethers), but it is time to get those horns off that goat!


If you wait too long to disbud, and the buds develop into real horns, the only way to remove them is by dehorning.

It is not fun to dehorn a goat, and it is, in fact, so dangerous for the goat that the only good way to do it is to have a veterinarian dehorn for you.

Try to avoid dehorning.


Naturally Hornless Goats?

SOME goats are born without horn buds. If there are no buttons on the top of a kid's head, that kid will never grow horns.

Goats that are born naturally hornless are called "polled" goats.

Polled goats, or naturally hornless goats, are that way because of a recessive-gene combination.

Both parents carried the "recessive" gene for hornless offspring.

A polled goat has two recessive genes for being hornless and no genes for having horns.

'Naturally hornless' goats sound good, don't they? So why don't goat breeders only breed polled goats to polled goats?

That would make all of the goat babies also 'naturally hornless', but this isn't done.

Why? Because the same genes that make goats hornless also carry the DNA code to make goats infertile (unable to make more babies).

Polled goats bred to each other very often produce "hermaphrodite" kids.

Hermaphrodites are goats that are born with both male and female body parts, but are also infertile and cannot be bred.

If you have a naturally hornless goat (buck or doe) do NOT breed it to another naturally hornless goat. It is bad breeding.

Be a better goat keeper than that.


Why Shouldn't Goats Keep Their Horns?

I have heard many people ask why the horns need to be removed at all.

"I like the way goats look with horns!" is what a lot of them say, or, "Horns are like a handle, I can grab the goat with them," is another.

While they may look 'cool' or even more 'natural' with horns, goats that have horns have shorter, more difficult lives than those that don't.

Why?

With horns goats can, and will, hurt themselves, the rest of the herd, or other animals including humans.

Goats don't have to be 'mean' in order to hurt other creatures with their horns, it is just part of what goats are.

They butt, swing, and strike with their heads to establish dominance, push another goat out of the way, or to show you that they are unhappy about something.

If the goat swings, butts, or strikes with a head full of horns that goat is going to do a lot of damage, even if it is unintentional.

Goats with horns are also hard on your fencing and equipment.

They will get their heads stuck in feeders, or won't be able to use the feeders at all. They get their horns hooked in fencing, then they will panic, and in the next instant they will run, pulling the whole fence down (if you're lucky), or getting tangled and hung up in the fencing (if you're not lucky).

Eventually, any goat with horns, no matter how gentle, will hurt you or your children, or other people (and think lawsuit when that happens), just because goats think and act like... goats.

Goat for Sale, or Trade, or Free...

When any (or all) of these things happen you will get angry, scared, frustrated, hurt, or sued (which will make you feel all of these things, and more). Then you will get rid of that goat any way you can.

If you give it to someone else, that person will have the same problems, will feel the same unhappy things, and will then pass the goat along to another person... and so on, until finally someone will just kill the goat.

This 'process' takes between one and three years. If you are the one who bred that goat into being, you are the one responsible for this path of misery.

But, Horns are for Protection!

Some people are certain that goats need to keep their horns for their own "protection." Nope.

You are not keeping goats on the open range. (If you are, why are you reading goats-in-the-backyard?)

If I had my goats outside the fence, on the open range (where I now live), I would want them to have horns to protect themselves from coyotes and other wild dogs.

It probably wouldn't help -- it would just make the coyotes work harder -- but I would do it to give the goats a fighting chance.

Goats in the backyard, however, are a different thing.

On the other hand, if you do the work (and face the unpleasantness) of disbudding when the kids are little, your goats will not be able to gore anyone, they will be able to use the feeders and not tear up the fences, and they will be much more pleasant (and less frustrating) to have around.

Even if you then give or sell one of your disbudded goats to someone else, they also will enjoy having it around and will not suffer with those problems.

This gives your goats the best possible chance to live long, healthy lives.


What if My Goat Already has Horns?

If you have a goat that still has its horns, you probably know first-hand what I'm talking about.

You may be at the scared-and-frustrated stage (which can happen soon after getting a set of mobile horns -- I mean a goat), so now you are in the area of DEHORNING.

Taking the horns off a goat that has already grown them out past the one- to two-inch length (about a month or so after they are born) will require surgery. By a veterinarian. In a vet clinic or hospital.

What I am saying is: money and risk.

The risk is to the goat, mostly, but having it dehorned is not going to instantly reduce your stress level, either.

Dehorning is literally taking the horn off down to the root (what you would have taken off a kid during the disbudding process) and results in two open holes in the goat's head that will take months to heal over.

Until these open holes close, insects, dirt, water (rain as well as water the goat drinks or gets into), and pretty much anything else that can fall in there will pose an infection risk.

Keeping the head bandaged will not work, since the goat will just rub it off, and even if it didn't, the bandage makes a breeding ground for infection as well.

This, by the way, is the reason I am a fanatic about telling people to: DISBUD YOUR KIDS.

My Goat Doesn't Have Horns, it has These Things...

When a disbudding is not done correctly, or not done completely, part of the horn will still grow.

These partial growths are called scurs. Scurs are much less of a problem than full horns, but they can still be a pain (to you or the goat).

Depending on the size and shape, and the rate of growth, a scur can be ignored, clipped off with a tool called a hoof nipper (which is available at most feed or farm supply stores), or can be sawed off with a hacksaw.

This removal of scurs is not permanent and will have to be done periodically to keep them under control. A scur that is not removed by you might be rubbed off by the goat, in which case it will probably bleed a little, then scab over, and eventually begin to grow again.

If your disbud a kid, and a horn or scur starts to grow, you CAN disbud again.


› Horns