As the horn scur heals…

You may recall that our little doeling Lovie had to have a horn scur removed last month, on the 10th. I thought I’d give an update for those who might be interested in her progress, as well as take this opportunity to discuss why disbudding is practiced. Some of the images in this post may be hard for more sensitive readers to view – it’s nothing terrifying, but may make some squeamish. I wanted to offer fair warning.

Lovie was so excited to find this mess of dried weeds!
Here she is, happily munching away, when she still had her scur.

First of all, I think it’s worth mentioning that both sexes of goats grow horns, not just the males. It’s a common misconception that the females do not grow them, and that is simply untrue.

So why remove the horns?

I’ve heard the argument that we are violating their natural state of being by removing what normally grows on them. But let’s face it, domesticating any animal and keeping it is already violating their “natural” state of being, isn’t it? If they were living truly au naturale, they’d be climbing up some cliffs, trying to avoid rockslides, avalanches, mountain lions, lynx, and more. They’d need those horns in order to protect themselves from predators. But we have provided them a safe home where being predated upon is not an issue. We insure that they have everything that they need. That’s not natural, either. But I think they sure do enjoy it – and we delight in interacting with them.

It would be very risky for us to be moving amongst the herd, playing with them, petting them, etc. if we had to be concerned about getting injured – possibly very seriously – because they caught us with their horns. Head-butting is part of normal goat behavior, and even if their intent isn’t to injure, that can be the result. Not only would we need to be concerned about ourselves, but the other goats in the herd would risk injury, and we’d especially need to be concerned about goat kids. I read about one goat owner’s experience with a mother goat who got annoyed with her kid being so mischievous, she head butted the baby, and it ended up getting impaled on its own mother’s horn. It didn’t survive. The mother goat was mournful for some time afterward, too.

There are also instances of goats getting their horns caught on fences, or in brambles and brush, and it has left them open to attack by predators, or they dehydrate. There are plenty of reasons why it is safer for a goat to not have it horns, and really, the best reason most folks who have questioned us on the practice can give for the pro-horn argument is that the process of removal seems painful and cruel.

But here’s the thing: it’s really not.

It’s a short process (less than a minute, in most cases) and when it’s done properly, there should be no regrowth of the horn (a.k.a. “scur”). In our case with Lovie, it’s unfortunate that the farm we got her from (along with Ginger and MaryAnn) just didn’t get it quite right. Black Mesa Ranch in Arizona has an excellent step-by-step pictorial of the disbudding process. When done properly, it should be a quick process that limits the pain, and doesn’t require further procedures.

Our girls Heidi and Gidget came to us with their horn buds in place, and our awesome vet took care of the disbudding. They’ve healed up wonderfully. They were three weeks old when we picked them up – less than ideal, as the preference is to take care of it earlier, but nevertheless, the disbudding our vet did has been very successful.

So, we knew that she would take care of Lovie very well. I’m not going to try and tell you that it was easy watching the process, heck, I was even participating in it, by holding her while LeeAnn used the disbudding iron on the scur, and that was hard to do. Lovie had to be put under general anesthetic for the operation, and it was nerve-wracking to watch her body go limp. I held her for the duration of the process, and sat with her after it was done as she woke back up, petting her the entire time, offering her comfort. This wasn’t some simple clinical process for me; I care about these animals deeply and only went ahead with having the scur removed because I knew the relatively short period of pain and healing will be much preferred to the agony of having a goat injure one of us or a herdmate later.

So, I’ve gone off on my tangent, and I should really loop back to the original goal here: showing the healing process. The first photo shows her a couple of hours after the procedure was done. She had been rummaging around in the hay feeder, and that’s what all of the green is inside of the wound. The purple dye is from Blu-Kote, an germicide and fungicide that helps to prevent infection. It gets everywhere when you use it, no matter how hard you try to keep it contained – I’ve had overspray remain on my skin for days. Basically, what you are seeing here is the remaining stump of the horn bud, and the area around it also had to be cauterized. The area immediately underneath is a sinus cavity. Our vet strongly advised us to resist the urge to clean the wound of snot and hay – both were abundant! It gives the scab something to cling to when it’s forming, and getting too zealous about cleaning can actually cause more harm than good. It was hard not to want to pick all of that alfalfa out of there, but even if I had trouble resisting the urge, Lovie made sure I couldn’t by running away whenever I even began to think about it.

Poor Baby!

It is so hard to see your little goat baby looking like this, but I keep reminding myself that short term pain will help us to avoid long term agony. And little Lovie-girl has been a trooper through all of this! Here she is about a month later, which is almost three weeks ago:

She remains unphased by her healing wound.

Since then, the scab/scar tissue fell off, as our vet had warned us that it would. And it did seem like I was looking at her brain, as we were also warned. But it was her sinus cavity, and since then, it has started healing over again, which you can see below.

Her skull tissue is growing back slowly but surely.

She’s had a lot of snot coming out of her left nostril, and some days, even out of the top of her head. But again, we were assured that’s normal, and part of the healing process. It’s not been easy to watch, and I wish that she did not have to endure this – but I think she’s been in excellent care, and is continuing to recover really well.

Our experience of having goats that were not properly disbudded has certainly motivated me to insure that the kids born on our farm will be disbudded at the appropriate time and that it will be done correctly. I’m grateful to have the mentor that I do in our vet – she has owned goats for 35 years and loves them. She’s promised to come and show me how to do it next Spring, and because we will be taking care of it at the right time, there will be no need for putting the goats under during the process.

This hasn’t been an easy post to write; I’m sure that there will be critics who still insist that disbudding is inhumane. I’m even more certain that most of those folks have never owned goats. Perhaps there are some who do, and like to keep horns on their goats – and that is their prerogative. But we have the safety of many in mind in making the choice to disbud – including, very importantly, that of our four-year-old son, who loves to take the goats on walks and play with them. I am personally of the belief that it would be terribly inhumane to expose him to potential injury, or have to prohibit his interactions with the herd at all, because we left our goats horned. I am also not willing to subject my herd to broken horns, injuries, and possibly death. Still not convinced? Google “goat horn injuries” and see some of the stories there.

I believe this is important to talk about – goats are becoming more popular as livestock and even as pets for some families. Horns are an issue that need to be considered by anyone looking to raise goats, and everyone has to weigh the pros and cons of what is going to work best for them. We’ve done that ourselves, and reached our own conclusions, which work the best for us and our herd. We will continue to work hard to make sure that our goats have a good life in a caring environment.


UPDATE: 5/4/2011: Here’s a photo we took tonight, about nine months later, to show you how well Lovie’s head has healed up. She’s doing great, and really, you wouldn’t know she went through all of that trauma last year by the looks of her. So if you are facing this issue with one of your goats, know that if you have someone doing it that is taking care of it properly, you won’t have any trouble! The procedure she went through, and many other goat health and reproduction procedures, will be covered by our Awesome Vet on her new website, Got A Goat.


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