Thursday, March 26, 2009
Disbudding and other removals
Goats are born without horns - good thing for the moms - but little bumps begin to appear soon after birth. Especially in little bucks, who may show points breaking through when they are only a day old.
It's really quite stirring to realize how well equipped baby goats are to survive in the wild. They can run at their mother's side by the time they are a couple of hours old, and within days can and do turn their little heads toward an attacking foe (farmer's son for example) and lower their heads. Those little horns would not do much damage during the first few days after they appear, but by the time the kid is only a month or two old, he is capable of presenting a formidable shield - albeit on his head - to his enemy.
On the other hand, it is devastating how well equipped baby goats are to get tangled in fences, beat down doors, and poke innocent visitors.
So it is considered good practice to remove the horns before they get fairly started.
Before the little horns erupt through the skin, they can be felt in the form of little buds. If these buds are removed when they are small and unerupted, the goat will be hornless and safe.
To disbud a kid, the procedure must be undertaken for little bucks within the first week or less after birth. However, since little bucks may in actuality be little burgers, it may not be necessary to go through the disbudding procedure on them. It depends on how long they are to be kept.
For does who are destined to be milkers, it is possible in some cases to wait a little longer than a week. But once the little horns erupt, the whole process becomes more challenging.
For one thing, the bud is bigger, and for another, the disbudding tool will not fit neatly over the horn and be able to remove the base of it. And if the base, or bud, is not gone, the horn will grow.
Even a small piece of bud left on the skull of the goat will result in horn growth, certainly not into elegant horns but instead into lumpy pieces that may break off and bleed.
So it's best to get right to the disbudding.
Disbudding irons are like soldering irons: there is a handle at one end, and a hot steel rod at the other. In the case of the disbudding irons, the end of the rod is designed to fit around the unerupted horn bud: it has a recessed center, with a ring around the outside.
When the iron has been plugged in and becomes hot - very hot - it is time to capture the kid. Holding his head firmly - this may be a multi-person job - the brave farmer ascertains the exact location of the horn bud by feeling for it, then presses the rod over it.
How long to hold the iron in place is a matter of practice, so the first time the new farmer disbuds the new goat may be a nerve-wracking experience. For both. If the iron is not held down in place long enough, the bud will not be encircled and killed, and the whole process will have to be repeated or the goat will end up with ugly horn-bits. If the iron is held in place for too long, it will burn through into the....
Well, new farmers usually don't cause dire damage, they just usually end up not doing enough.
The ideal result is that the horn bud has its blood supply cut off by the encircling rim of iron, and can be plucked off bloodlessly.
There is a lot of smell of hair and screaming of goat, but it's over with in a minute or two. Per horn. Then the baby's head is dusted with antiseptic powder, and he is let back into the kid pen to tell his little brothers and sisters what is in store for them.
We don't love doing it. But it is far better than horns.
And it is also far better than converting little bucks to the genderless sweethearts they must become if they are to escape the butcher knife. This conversion process involves tiny robust rubber bands the inside diameter of which is the size of cheerio holes and rubber band stretchers and once positioned the rubber bands cut off circulation and end the process by which bucklings become big smelly bucks.
So the early life of little goats is not all play. But then they forget about these things, and go on with their bouncy little lives.