Or should I say, the lack of them…?
Because on this sunny St Patrick’s Day we finally managed to get the kids’ horn buds taken off, albeit not by our ‘usual’ vet. This is the procedure whereby the horn buds are removed before any horn material has really had a chance to develop. Basically the buds are cauterized with a very hot iron; it’s a tricky procedure. The breed we have here – the British Toggenburg – isn’t a naturally polled breed. Whilst some people prefer to leave the horns on we frankly don’t: not only could the goats injure one another when establishing new herd hierarchies etc, there is also a very real danger that one of us could be injured as well.
During our first year we hadn’t had the male kids disbudded & when I was trying to treat one he took a flying leap up the wall of the stable, & just nicked the corner of my eye with his sharp little horn as I lunged forward to grab him. It was only a slight scratch; however it shook me up quite considerably & taught me a salutory lesson as only a few millimetres closer & he would probably have taken my eye out.
So I spent this morning preparing a large order of gelato for delivery tomorrow; & then the vet arrived in the afternoon along with a student assistant, to carry out the procedure. Cath is a brisk, professional vet who is absolutely wonderful with the animals. If something needs doing she doesn’t mess around; however without compromising gentleness and care.
We soon had a production line going with me catching the kids & cradling them as they drifted off to sleep (the procedure was carried out under general anaesthetic) whilst Cath undertook the disbudding & her assistant applied cold, wet cloths to each newly-treated horn base. Each kid was then carefully laid down on a bed of warm straw bales, bathed in the tranquil afternoon sunshine as they awoke. For a few seconds they’d totter around, looking for all the world as if they’d had a few too many lagers; then they’d skip off to Mum for a comforting drink from the milk bar, none the worse for wear other than feeling some confusion & – I suspect – a bit of a headache.
Unlike dehorning calves the procedure on goats (in the UK) has to be carried out by a vet, & under anaesthetic: it’s easy to get it wrong as a kid’s skull is relatively thin; & prolonged contact with the hot iron can either directly kill the kid; or as a secondary problem can cause meningitis. For this reason an extremely hot iron is used, so it need be in contact with the head for only a minimal amount of time, to minimise the chance of heat transfer through the thin skull. However, if the vet doesn’t apply the iron sufficiently the horns grow back as untidy, brittle scurs which can catch & break, bleeding profusely & attracting flies; or they can twist round & even grow back into the head, causing extremely painful pressure if not caught quickly enough.
Subsequently they may need regular trimming back with either dehorning wire or hoof loppers – inconvenient for the goat keeper & uncomfortable for the goat. Unfortunately the majority of the disbuddings (especially on the male kids) which we’d had done the previous year, were unsuccessful; & we lost a number of valuable sales as a result (each pedigree male kid is worth around £250 – £300), because most breeders would naturally prefer to have a polled Stud Male goat – they’re big & powerful enough as it is, without the additional threat of horns to contend with.
And that’s not the only issue. Horned goats have an uncanny knack of getting themselves caught up in any & every available haynet, fencing etc. Horned & polled goats should never be mixed, as the horned ones will quickly realise their advantage.
It took us around two hours to disbud all the kids; as some of the older ones needed a more thorough job. It’s done by carefully applying a red-hot iron to the immature horn bud, & basically burning-&-twisting it off whilst sealing it with the heat. They generally don’t bleed & the root of the horn which is left is given a good application of antiseptic spray.
In discussion we concluded from today’s experience that the ideal age to carry out the procedure appears to be when the kids are roughly 4-10 days old, with 7 days the ideal on an ‘average’ kid (& depending on their stage & rate of development); but anything beyond three weeks’ maturity would a challenge as the horns are so well grown by that age. Subsequently some of the older kids who were disbudded today may have a bit of residual growth – it’ll certainly be interesting to monitor them.
Incidentally kids should be carefully monitored during the subsequent days after disbudding. They may seem a little ‘off colour’ for a few days, & need to be carefully observed to ensure they continue to feed. If there are any signs of nervous disablility (such as convulsions, ‘star gazing’, or tilting of the head) there may be a complication such as a secondary infection to the disbudded site or traumatic injury to the brain – CONTACT YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY.
It is also strongly recommended that an adult goat with horns is NOT subsequently dehorned, if it can be avoided. It is an extremely stressful procedure & if flies get into the hollow wound caused by removal of the horn, it can lead to serious infection.