By Sue Reith
Special thanks to Ms Reith for giving her permission to reproduce this article.
Some basics before beginning the process:
Ideally, the kid got 1/4cc of Tetanus Antitoxin at birth for immediate but temporary protection lasting 10-14 days. If castration or disbudding is done later than that, but before the kid is 2 months old (when the first regular Tetanus Toxoid shot is due) I give another dose of antitoxin when I do the disbudding.
The right time to disbud a kid is when the hornbud can be felt easily, and (especially in Pygmies) is just barely starting to get a pointy tip. Attempts to disbud before the bump can be felt will be frustrating since there's nothing to 'catch' the iron on, and the growth circle* at its base will be too small for contact with the iron's heated tip. OTOH, delaying disbudding much beyond this time will result in other problems, some quite dangerous and others having a permanently damaging effect on the kid's future.
(*The growth circle is a thin line beneath the skinís surface, called a corium, that produces the horn growth. Sometimes called a cornet, that layer produces the goatís horn tissue just as it does horsesí hooves and human fingernails, all of which are actually tough, protective outer layers of tissue.)
The difference between the horn growth of bucklings and doelings needs to be considered when disbudding. The doeling's hornbud is small and round, while the buckling's is already visibly shaped like an upside-down teardrop, with its thin 'neck' of growth aiming downward and inward towards its nose.
This extra little neck of growth is beyond the reach of the circular iron tip as it burns the white circle around the growth area at the base of the bud. A second, small burn must be made on that thin 'neck' part which, if overlooked, will grow into an ugly, curly 'scur' that will remain forever on the buck's head (excepting when it breaks off and bleeds, as they occasionally do, after which it immediately re-grows...).
The Swiss-breed kids have hornbuds that show up very quickly after birth. As a result they need disbudding earlier than the Nubians, whose buds often aren't ready to do for 2 weeks or more. In fact, the Swiss buckling may be ready to disbud as early as 4 to 5 days after birth. Swiss doelings, however, may not be ready for that for a week or more.
It is important, then, if someone else is doing the disbudding and there are both bucklings and doelings to do, that the bucklings be done when they are ready instead of waiting until the doelings' horns have grown big enough so they can all be disbudded at the same time.
When a new owner needs help with disbudding I always encourage him/her to find a competent goat breeder in the area who's known to disbud regularly and well. This is a routine management procedure, not a health issue, thus to seek the help of a veterinarian, few of which could match the disbudding experience of the breeder, would be an unnecessarily costly, while no more efficient, approach.
When an experienced breeder is ready to demonstrate the disbudding process, pay close attention to the preparation, taking note that the key to the process is a very hot iron. It's vital to get the job done quickly so the kid's brain doesn't become overheated... The iron is placed on the head, the horn bud burned, and the iron removed, all as fast as possible. Using a VERY HOT iron is the only way to accomplish that.
Most people prefer to use an electric iron to disbud. They're easy to heat up, and as long as the disbudding is done before the horn buds grow too big the electric irons are great. My own preference is a copper, hand-heated iron (Nasco catalog). It's available in 3 different sizes, allowing me to handle just about any sized hornbud I'm asked to remove. But it's less convenient than the electric ones, as it has to be heated with a blowtorch instead of electricity.
In buying an electric iron it's a good idea to pay a little extra and buy several horn tip sizes, including a teardrop-shaped one for use on buck kids. Because the iron has to be extremely hot for fast disbudding, the only safe choice in my view is a top of the line model such as the Rhinehart X50 or the very best Lenk. The less expensive models don't get hot enough so they must be kept in contact with the kid's head longer to get the job done. This can overheat the brain, resulting in swelling, convulsions, and death.
There are two major differences between using hand-heated and electric irons... The hand-heated iron sometimes needs re-heating in the middle of the disbudding process while the electric one does not, and when using the electric iron, while a helper is nice to have, it's not essential. Other than that, the approach is pretty much the same with either type of iron. In this article I draw from my own experience, so I share with the reader the procedure I'm most comfortable with. Other experienced people out there have developed their own individual, but certainly equally as effective, approaches to this same issue. However, the basic premises I share about the process in general are universally accurate and must be understood by anyone who wants good results.
I keep the following supplies on hand for disbudding: Disbudding iron, Disbudding box, Clippers, Garden pruners, Furox spray, Banamine (Rx item).
A final bit of guidance before beginning the disbudding process:
Banamine, a prescription item, is included in the supplies list immediately above because when the iron has to be left on the head for a little longer than ideal I automatically give it to the kid (dose rate: 1cc/100lbs) to prevent swelling of the brain from overheating. A classic early symptom of brain swelling is bulging eyes. As the kid worsens, the symptoms, depending on the degree of overheating, may include: wobbly gait and disorientation, followed by convulsions and death. Once symptoms are seen, a subcutaneous dose of Banamine given ASAP can generally still put things right. BTW: I NEVER use dexamethasone because it's a corticosteroid, which means that while it's in the body it disconnects the immune system. Banamine, because it's non-steroidal, doesn't shut down the immune system, and it's anti-inflammatory, a painkiller, and a temp regulator too. So it does the same job dexamethasone would do, but without the risky downside. Except that it costs more than dexamethasone, there's no downside to its occasional use at all.
And now, to the process itself:
Having already clipped the hair away from around the hornbuds, just before I heat up the iron I fit the different sized tips over the buds to find the one that's the right diameter to fit down onto the growth ring. It's important to do this because if the iron's tip is too large or too small, or if I'm unable to see the growth ring because the hair is in the way, I'll be unable to burn down into it and destroy it completely, and any part I miss will re-grow and become a 'scur'.
I always use a disbudding box, which is one more good reason not to wait too long before disbudding a kid...They won't fit into the box if they're too big! (disbudding box pic attached.)
When everything's ready to go I recruit a helper (generally the kid's owner, who has to get over being squeamish very quickly at such times!) to hold the kid's head in position in the disbudding box, with the ears held flat and out of the way, so that I can work with it safely.
I put the kid into the box with its head sticking out of the front end. Then I sit on top of the box, facing forward the same direction the kid is facing, and snip off any pointy hornbud tips that exist with my garden pruners so the iron can fit all the way down over the bump to the skull.
My helper hands me the iron and quickly positions him/herself directly in front of the box, grasping the kid's head, including ears, and gently rotating it up to one side so that the horn bud to be done first is centered at the very top, creating a level surface on which I can apply firm, steady pressure.
The head is held in that position while at the same time the helper takes care not to choke the kid by pushing its neck down too hard on the collar of the box. As soon as the hornbud is steady and level, with no 'give' to it at all, I press the tip of the heated iron down over the straight-up-positioned bud and begin rotating the outer edge of it in a circle. I use only strong wrist and elbow action, sort of like a witch stirring a cauldron, and count slowly up to 6. By the time I get to the number 6, with a properly heated iron I should be able to see a white (not copper!) circle, which is the actual white surface of the skull, all the way around the base of the bud.
I already know pretty much when I have gotten there, because I can feel a clunking sensation as the disbudding iron rocks against the skull surface. Knowing that the job is complete, I remove the iron quickly.
My helper then carefully rotates the head so that the opposite hornbud is straight up, and I repeat the process. There have been times, especially if it's a cold day or the horn bud is a little larger than routine, when I have needed to reheat the iron before doing the second bud.
And sometimes, when for whatever reason I can't get my iron to burn that clear white circle around the growth ring during that initial slow count to 6, I need to give the bud a short rest while I do the second one. Then, re-heating my iron to a glowing red, I go back and quickly re-do any part of the growth ring I don't feel was completely burned through during the first try.
BTW: I don't pop, peel or lift off any part of the burned bud. Some people advocate doing this, but frankly it's totally unnecessary, causes additional exposure and pain to the kid, and doesn't affect the outcome at all. So far as I'm aware, I have a 'scur-free' record over these past 30 + years with the approach spelled out above...
As a final touch after the disbudding I spray each burned growth ring with 'Wound Coat' or 'Furox', partly as an antiseptic precaution, but mostly because the cold propellant in the spraycan freezes the wound area, helping cool it down fast and stop any blood flow. BTW: I have never, ever seen an infection develop as the result of a disbudding. I assume that's because the process involves a great deal of intense heat, which would fry (aka sterilize) any harmful bacteria in the area.
If a little 'weeping' is seen at the base of the horn bud (aka the cornet or growth band) when I'm finished disbudding, that's just the serum that produces the scab and it will dry and harden quickly, so it's not a cause for worry.
If weeping is seen after few days have passed, however, it's probably because the kid has bumped the healing bud somehow, and serum is being produced again to re-form another scab. If that happens, my own view is that the owner should give it the 'wait and see' treatment, because it's important to keep the whole area dry while it heals.
Sometimes a disbudding scab will get knocked off while the kid is playing and start to bleed profusely... I have on occasion had to sit for a half hour or so with the kid in my lap and a compress on the bleeding wound, after which I put it in a dog crate to stay quiet for a few hours until the area re-scabs again. Worst case scenario... The owner can tape a compress (a sanitary napkin or disposable diaper works well) over the leaking hornbud to keep pressure on it for a longer time while the kid takes a 'time out' in the crate!
For a couple of weeks after the disbudding the kid's owner should keep a close watch on it to see if either horn bud starts to grow taller. That's a sign that the disbudding done on that particular bud did not entirely kill the horn growth, and it should be -re-done ASAP.
Each year at some point I get asked to disbud a kid whose owner didn't get around to taking care of the job early enough. A doe kid is a much better candidate for late disbudding than is a buck kid, whose horn base at that same stage will be much harder and wider than hers.
But I have done several buck kids successfully at that point as well. That having been said, it takes a good, sharp, clean pair of garden pruners and some tenacity to nip off enough excess horn growth so the iron can fit down low enough to connect with the skull and burn the growth ring away.
With all those different disbudding iron sizes to choose from, though, and with much effort, I can usually do it. As soon as the protruding horn is cut away, the hot iron will have to be ready to slap onto the exposed surface, because blood will spray out in every direction, especially onto the owner's favorite shirt.
If there is still some blood spray when the disbudding is finished, I cauterize the bleeding surface with the side of the hot iron to stop it. And, simply because more effort is required when doing an older kid to get the hot iron down on the skull and kill the horn growth, overheating of its head is a given and the chance of brain swelling is great. So I always follow up right away with a dose of Banamine, SQ, to prevent the swelling from ever getting started.
When faced with less-than-ideal conditions like the ones above, following these guidelines usually works out fine so long as the horn tissue is still soft enough to work with. But occasionally it's so hard that garden pruners can't cut through it, and in that case the kid has usually grown too large/strong to fit into the disbudding box as well, so I have to tell the owner that I can't do the job.
Although not quite as effective as permanent removal by disbudding, there are alternatives to that process available. A favorite of mine is removal of the horn growth with elastrator bands, a bloodless and relatively painless procedure for which instructions can be found on the internet.
Bainbridge Island WA
(While I urge you to share this information with other individual goat owners, please do not reproduce the article for publication without my specific permission. Thank you. Sue Reith.)