The Art of Disbudding

The following information has been complied for general reference and educational purposes only. It is not intended, in any way to replace professional veterinary advice or care for your goats.

Disbudding is one of the most difficult jobs a goat breeder has to do. While dehorning is not the most pleasant job for goat breeders, it produces goats that are much safer to work around, that are less likely to find themselves caught in fences or feeders and are also less likely to injure other animals or their human companions. As responsible goat Breeders we must be able to disbud in a safe way causing no harm and the least amount of pain possible.

The disbudding iron needs to be a good quality one that will do the job quickly. A low-quality iron heats slower and may not get hot enough, making the procedure take longer and causing undue stress to the kid.

Our disbudding process – starts with kids being given a quick once over (never disbud a sick or frail kid) we vaccinate against tetanus using a combined 3 in 1 vaccine at the time of disbudding. Yes, it’s a bit young but better to be safe than sorry and Vets have assured us that no harm is done vaccinating early.

Ideally, kids should be about 7 –10 days old when you disbud them. Doe kids can be done up to 3 weeks of age, it will depend on the tip of the iron hollow tip can slip over the erupted bud where flat tip cannot. If the buds get too big there will be more chance of scurs (small, deformed horns) developing. If it’s your first time, make sure you have an experienced disbudder helping you.

Make sure the IRON IS HOT. Let it heat up at least 10 minutes; we let it warm up at least 20 minutes. We make sure it is ready by applying it to a wooden board, you will get an immediate dark brown ring. Collect your kid, and trim the hair around the buds to reduce smoke. A cheap pair of human hair trimmers is all you need. 

Kids are restrained by wrapping them in a towel they can also be put in a specially designed disbudding crate. 
I used to hold them in my arms while husband disbudded, but found that they struggle too much and I always seemed to get burned. Drape a towel over the little one like so. We disbud on a nice grassy patch or sit on soft rugs for the kids comfort. Use pavers or bricks to rest the iron on.

Fold little front legs under and gently push the little one down on the ground (below). Note the correct position of the legs and the way the kid sits on the ground.

Straddle the little one being sure to pull the towel out under your knees to tighten it up. The towel then acts as a second set of hands. Run your hands down over the face and pull the little ears back. Hold the little head down gently but firmly against the ground.

This is generally the time that the kid will start yelling, they do not like to be restrained, try not to panic and remember to remain calm, although your heart will feel as though it is going to race out of your chest.

Look to see where the iron will go, feel the buds with finger tips. Firmly place the iron over the bud and evenly twist back and forth for a few seconds. 

You should end up with a leathery to a white ring around the horn bud. Do the other side. If you don’t get a complete ring, simply re-apply the iron for a couple more seconds. Never burn more than a count of ten at any time. They say that the disbudding iron will actually cauterise the nerves and the kid will feel little or no pain when you are done. When you are done, spray both marks with an antiseptic spray. If you use powder the kid will scratch at the site and may cause bleeding and infection. Let the little one go back to mum, or give them their bottle. The nursing reflex is a good way to judge stress – a stressed kid will not nurse.

In a few days, the burnt area will become a scab. In about 3 to 5 weeks (depending on the kid) the scabs will fall off on its own. Do not pick at them. When the scabs do fall off, the area may bleed so we always apply more antiseptic spray.The head should be kept as dry as possible after the initial liquid antiseptic spray, so it is a good idea not to bath your little one for the weeks following disbudding. 

S. Ludwig 2007