Jan 30, 2009


Well, we just disbudded our first kids of 2009. Two down, 40 or so more to go.


For those who are unfamiliar with the term, disbudding refers to the process of making sure that baby goats do not grow horns by burning the budding horns, either with a tool called a disbudding iron or by using a caustic paste. At Swede Farm we use the iron. The reasons are that it is faster, (60 seconds rather than days or weeks) and the paste can be spread elsewhere causing chemical burns to the skin that it comes in contact with. Despite the fact that it is pretty fast, and the kids are up, shaking their heads and running around within a matter of seconds, it is still traumatic. For the kids, of course, and for the one doing the disbudding, namely, me.

We were recently asked at a farmer's market why we disbud. Surely, the customer said, it is painful. It is. It isn't natural. No, it isn't. It deprives them of their inherent "goatness". Ah. Well.

The reasons that we disbud are many. The most trivial is that we cannot show the goats if they have horns. We started as a show herd and the American Dairy Goat Association has a rule that prohibits horned goats in the show ring. Another reason is that goats invariably fight, jockeying for position. Since some of our goats are hornless, they all need to be hornless, rather than see the hornless goats suffer at the hands (heads) of the horned goats. Our goats are handled multiple times daily by myself, my husband and any number of children of varying ages. Horns can be dangerous for the people who handle goats, just ask my daughter Kate who was at the receiving end of a set of horns when a goat (not belonging to us) was irked (not even really mad) that Kate didn't move away from the hay feeder fast enough.

Lastly we disbud precisely because of the 'natural' aspect of raising dairy goats, or rather, the UN-natural aspect. Horns can be very useful tools of defense when a goat lives on the side of a mountain somewhere, subject to being attacked by any number of predators. However our goats do not live in a natural environment. They have company and they have browse and they are well cared for, but let's face it, a fenced pasture is NOT a natural setting for a goat. Horns are notorious for becoming entangled in fences, feeders and the like. In March of 2007, our long awaited and much loved buck, Lynnhaven NYM Pure Brazos was caught by a scur in a fence. (A scur is partial horn regrowth after disbudding. It happens, sometimes, especially in bucks.) While he was trapped he became the target of a pack of stray dogs and killed. It was horrible--for him and for the children who found him and for our fledgling farm. So although I didn't feel the time was appropriate to go into detail with our well-meaning customer, we disbud in memory of Brazos (pictured above shortly after his arrival from New York), so that no animal will ever again, at least on our property, suffer in such a manner.

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