"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

New Frontier in Goat Care (Disbudding)

Polly's buckling, the survivor of the twins, is growing incredibly fast because he is getting all of Polly's milk. I didn't think one baby goat would even be capable of draining Polly, who is a prodigious producer, but this little guy is doing a pretty good job. Although only ten days old, it was already time to disbud him. 

Disbudding goats means burning the little horn buds off with a red-hot iron, an electric machine that looks like a giant version of the cigarette lighter in your car. Usually, this is done at about two weeks of age. It's a delicate procedure - albeit that's a strange word to use in conjunction with the phrase "red hot iron." It's quite easy to make mistakes. One can either be too gentle and hesitant, in which case the buds aren't completely destroyed and the goat ends up with weird, misshapen "scurs" instead of horns; or one can be too aggressive and damage the baby's brain. 

Even the veterinarian can make mistakes - a few years ago I lost a baby that I brought to be disbudded at the vet ( This One Really Hurts (Bad Year for Baby Goats)). The risk of killing a goat, along with the inherent barbarity of the procedure and the cost of buying a disbudding iron, combined to prevent me from attempting to do my own disbudding. Until now. 

Blizzard in a disbudding box

So far this year, I have three bucklings and no does (Flopsy kidded yesterday with adorable twin bucklings - photos to follow). Bucklings, especially unregistered bucklings, are not very valuable, being worth only about half as much as doelings. I listed my bucklings for $75 on craigslist. Disbudding costs $50 at the vet. You can see that it just isn't financially viable to take bucklings to the vet for disbudding. Doelings, maybe; I can usually get $150 for a pretty, spotted doe. 

In past years, I have taken my babies to a farmer to be disbudded, and so I have seen what it looks like without anesthesia. It's about like you'd imagine. But I decided I have to get over myself and give it a try. I was a nurse once - blood and guts and screaming in pain isn't supposed to bother me. 

In case you are wondering why we don't just leave the buds on and let them grow horns, there are a few reasons. With does that I plan on keeping, I do let them grow horns. Polly has horns and it isn't a problem. In fact they make convenient handles. Bucks are different, however. A horned buck can be a dangerous animal, especially during rut. My goats come from a line of large, heavy animals and a full grown buck probably weighs about 200 pounds. I don't want a horned buck on the property. He could hurt not just me or the kids, but the does. I have heard about pregnant does miscarrying because they were butted by bucks. Also, it's difficult to to sell a horned animal. And occasionally, a horned goat will stick his or her head through a fence and get stuck. That's not a fun situation to deal with. 

 For all of these reasons, I decided that this was the year I was going to disbud my own baby goats. I asked around among my friends, and a neighbor of mine, K., was willing to lend us their iron and their baby box. Homero and I showed up with Blizzard and a fresh hot loaf of zucchini bread. K. and her husband had the iron heated up already, and it was just a few minutes work to pop the baby in the box and clip the fur on his head.

Before burning the buds, you are supposed to use hoof trimmers (or something like that) to cut off the tips of the horn buds. For some reason, that part made me feel much more queasy than the cauterizing did. I made Homero do that part, but then I did the burning. I sat down on the box behind the baby goat, and while Homero grabbed his head, I applied the iron firmly to the bud, twisting back and forth and counting to six. Most people say ten, but I wasn't taking any chances on burning his brains. I could always re-apply.

However it wasn't necessary. You can tell when you are done by the "copper ring" around the horn bud - that's a shiny, copper colored ring which I believe is actually burnt bone. It shows up pretty well in the photo below. Then you use the side of the iron to burn the middles a little bit more - just a second or two - and then the little fried cap of skin comes off, and you're done. On that side, anyway.

the copper ring

A robust baby goat ought to stay conscious and actively struggling throughout the procedure. You don't want to render them unconscious; that's probably going to cause brain damage. After you are done, promptly return the baby goat to its mother - they should run right up and nurse for comfort. The thing to remember is that even if the baby looks like he or she has come through with no ill effects, keep a close eye on them for 48 hours. If there is going to be trouble, it will be the result of inflammation and swelling of the brain. Inflammation peaks about 48 hours after injury and then begins to decline. If you have Banamine, an injectable anti-inflammatory, that's a good idea. Ask your vet for dosage information.

I'll be watching young Blizzard for any signs of trouble, but I expect he will be just fine. And I feel fine, too. It wasn't anywhere near as hard as I'd thought it was going to be. I actually had serious doubts about whether or not I would be able to do it, when push came to shove. But I guess once a nurse, always a nurse - the screaming  didn't bother me much at all.


Ruth Dixon said...

Good for you! It's one of those farmer things that we make ourselves learn because by golly, if we are gonna be self-sufficient and frugal, we gotta learn sometime. I've never disbudded, but for years I would give shots to our sheep or band tails or testicles. Now I'm a pro! I can even band steer calves. Keep up the good work!

Laura said...

I won't have a horned goat ever. I had some horned ewes, and one was particularly adept at getting her head through the fence - her horns were only 3" long, but she immediately turned into a molly bolt, and couldn't get her head out of the panel. I have numerous panels with one end of a cross piece cut, so I could bend it and get her out.

I'm proud of you for doing your own. I have a friend who has mini-manchas, and does her own, too. She's quite a handy gal! (as are you!)