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Feeling Horn-y

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

One of the striking features of San Clemente Island goats are their horns. The females have a delicate looking, short horn that sweeps gracefully back away from their face. The males have amazing horns that continue to grow as they get older, curling and twisting in a number of different patters, depending on the boy.

However, horns have their draw backs. In many states goats cannot be shown if they have horns. Dairy farmers may require more space for each goat if they have horns. Parents may worry about their children getting injured. Owners may worry about goats getting their horns caught in fences.

Despite these issues, we at Saffron and Honey do not disbud our goats. In part, this is because we believe many of these issues to be more about convenience than true need, and the rest are issues we can work around.

Goats, however, suffer without their horns, just as a cat who is declawed or a dog with a docked tail suffer. A goat without horns in a herd of goats with horns is automatically at the bottom of the pecking order. Like cats who have been declawed, goats who have been dehorned will sometimes take to biting to defend themselves. The iron used to disbud is incredibly hot. Burning the horn is like giving a person a third-degree burn. The nerves may die, but the act of burning hurts. The surrounding area suffers second degree burns and remains painful for some time.

Shock is common for the kids and so are improperly burned horns, resulting in jagged half-grown horns that are brittle and painful for the goats. I have seen - in person - adult goats who have had their horn improperly removed and they are terribly to look at. I have also seen maimed and scarred goats because someone wanted to make sure the horns didn't grow in and left the iron on too long. Some evidence suggests that even properly disbudded kids can suffer pain for their entire lives.

There are physical needs for goats to keep their horns. Goat horns are designed to regulate their body temperature. Large blood vessels carry blood in and out of the horns as the temperature of the environment changes. Goats also use their horns to get that hard-to-reach itchy spot. Imagine if you could never reach that spot between your shoulder blades to scratch it!

And, as an additional note, goats use their horns as tool to pull down yummy branches that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach. While this may not be critical from my point of view, I bet the goats disagree!

Finally, goats without horns seem very nervous. I have experienced this and other goat-owners have documented it as well. Even when not picked on by other goats, they appear more timid and skittish than other goats.

We also have considered the ethics of disbudding. Please understand that while we love our animals, we still do consider them animals and we use them for meat, eggs and other products. However, we try to give them the best life we can, with good care and no pain while they are with us. In our opinion, disbudding does not fit any of these goals.

For these reasons, I choose not to disbud my goats. I am aware this puts me in the minority but I believe (and hope!) that this will change over time. I am also aware this means I will not be able to show my goats but I believe that my ego and the possibility of a blue ribbon are not worth my goats’ comfort or potentially injuring them.

We have a history of maiming animals to make them look and act the way we want

  • We used to cut the ears and tails on dogs to make them look tough.

  • We pull the claws out of cats to save our furniture

  • We put blinders on horses and crop their tails

Over time, we are coming to realize that these things are wrong. I hope that education and public pressure will also change out outlook on the need to allow goat's to live as nature intended. This is my two cents and how I have made my decision.

Good luck with your own.

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