Why we choose not to dehorn our goats.
This year, 2020, marks our 5th year breeding goats. For the first two years we bred Australian Miniature goats. Then we purchased a pure-bred Nigerian Dwarf buck and thus begun a wonderful adventure into this endearing and generous breed of dairy goat. By Australian standards, dairy goats are required to be dehorned. Experienced dairy goat breeders give many valid reasons for maintaining this industry standard. Dehorned goats don’t hurt other goats, they don’t get their heads stuck in fences, they don’t damage fences, they are easier to rehome and they can’t hurt the farmer or handler.
As passionate and committed breeders, we understand the above rationales. As with most other breeders our goat’s welfare is first and foremost and underpins everything we do here at Mojo.
However, the painful and invasive act of disbudding kids has made us question our motives and on occasion has almost been a catalyst to quit breeding dairy goats all together. Meat goats are not required to be dehorned nor are fibre goats.
Here at Mojo, we have invested much time and resources to establish a herd of exceptional genetics and bloodlines and are committed to the breed, however we continue to struggle with the notion of debudding.
For those not familiar with the procedure, a red-hot implement is held onto the kids horn buds (just above the eye sockets on the skull) until the skin turns white. This is then repeated for the other horn bud. To minimise stress and pain, it is recommended this procedure be performed as early as possible, often in the first week of life.
To counteract having to put our kids through this painful and invasive procedure, we have introduced polled genetics into our herd. In addition to having 3 horned does and one debudded buck, our herd also consists of 1 polled buck and 5 polled does. With a carefully selected breeding program (polled goats can’t be breed with other polled goats) we have managed to minimise the amount of debudding required and with our latest kid drop, only 2 out of 8 kids were born with horns.
Still, we can’t get past having to perform this ghastly procedure on these tiny, innocent kids.
After researching further into why dairy goats are dehorned, I came across a fascinating article by Onion Creek Oberhasli, which makes some interesting points, summarised below (you can read the entire article here: https://onioncreekoberhaslis.weebly.com/why-horns.html)
IDGR (International Dairy Goat Register) advocates for the retention of horns on animals born with them.
Only dairy goats in America, Australia, and the UK are routinely dehorned.
It is believed the practice of dehorning was initiated around 1904 in America by persons with a keen interest in goat showing, who wanted their goats to stand apart from common or bush goats.
Additionally, guidelines in the Animal Welfare Standards of Australia – Goat Industry, published by Animal Health Australia clearly outlines that “Castration, disbudding and dehorning should only be done where there are no alternatives and the procedure results in:
benefits to life-time goat welfare, better herd management, a reduced work (occupational) health, and safety risk”.
In consideration of the welfare of the goat first and foremost, additional considerations were made to why goats have horns in the first place.
The following reasons highlight why horns are good for goats (and farmers):
* horns regulate body temperature
* horns are used by goats socially to aid in establishing the pecking order
* horns serve as indicators of protein metabolism and feed conversion efficiency
* besides teeth, horns also indicate the age of the animal
* horns make good handles and enable the handler more control of the animal when performing routine tasks such as hoof trimming.
* goats use their horns as ‘tools’ and besides warding off small predators, they come in especially handy for back-scratching.
After weighing up the pros and cons, and from our experience of keeping both horned and hornless goats, it is true that goats with horns can get their heads stuck in fences. There has also been the odd minor injury (but always from us being careless in our handling rather than the goat trying to harm us), and yes, I have watched with apprehension, a horned goat verse a hornless goat butting out the pecking order but so far (thankfully) without serious or permanent injury.
For us, all of the issues outlined above are manageable. For example, we are much more aware of our personal safety when feeding or handling horned goats, we have invested in tighter meshed fencing whereby the gaps are too small for even a tiny goat to get their heads through, and we stand by, ready to intervene when introducing new goats to the herd. We have found the fighting rarely extends past an hour or two and as soon as dominance is won, the butting and fighting stops. Yes, the horned goats almost always are top of the herd.
We are also willing to forego shows if regulations state horned goats do not qualify.
To us, none of the problems above outweigh the immense stress placed on tiny kids from the dehorning procedure. It seems, all the reasons for having hornless goats are based on our own convenience rather than for the good of the goats themselves.
Also, contrary to popular opinion that suggests it is difficult or impossible to find a good home for horned goats or horned goats will be subject to poor treatment, it is our experience people expect goats to be horned and the majority of small landholders or hobby farmers, who buy our goats love and care for them regardless of whether they are horned or not.
So, for the explanations outlined above, we have decided to forego dehorning our herd in the future. It is our wish that not just our goats but all goats with horns are as loved and valued as their hornless counterparts and goat breeders the world over, come to appreciate the unique beauty and immense individual value horns have to these endearing animals.
We also hope in the future, miniature and dairy goat associations will introduce a category for horned goats and a scoring system for evaluating the size, shape, spacing, and confirmation of the horns.
Going forward, we will continue to breed predominately for polled goats but we will no longer debud our kids purely for human convenience.