Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. I cannot diagnose or prescribe. No information contained here or elsewhere on this website is meant to replace appropriate veterinary or professional opinion. I can only share my own experiences, practices, research, and opinions. No statements here have been evaluated by the FDA ,USDA, ABCDEFG, etc.
Each herd, indeed each individual animal, is unique so you must find what works for the individual and not mime what works for someone else. It’s good to seek out experience and learn from it, but practices must be applied per herd and individual. Reassessing is necessary at times to find the system that works best for you; I’m frequently tweaking small things with my herd as well. No two herds are the same, so no two management systems are the same. A lot of livestock raising — and farming in general — is trial and error.
My Herd Management
My goats – both my does and bucks – receive almost identical care. There are differences, primarily stemming around reproduction and lactation, but unless I specify them, you can assume that the following information applies to the whole herd. I will try to give a clear picture of herd care, including unpleasant parts, so that you can better see the “big picture” of life with goats if you do not own goats yet. I wouldn’t want to sugar coat everything, and then someone enter into the goat world without knowing about the more difficult side, too. Goats aren’t for everyone, and it’s much better to realize that going in. they’ve gained a lot of popularity because they’re cute and functional, but they’re also one of the hardest species to raise.
I try to raise all of my livestock as naturally as possible. This means that I utilize management techniques to prevent problems from arising and utilize natural remedies whenever possible. However, I never neglect to use medication when necessary for the well being of an animal.
Herd Health and Bio-Security
My whole herd has tested negative for CAE, CL, and Johnes and I have had no sign of CAE, Johnes, or CL in my herd. I run repeat tests, usually when pregnancy testing, and quarantine and test all new incoming stock. I only purchase new stock from breeders I trust who also have clean and tested herds and who maintain their herds with the same level of care that I do. Tennessee is an accredited free state for tuberculosis and brucellosis.
I choose to test for CAE yearly, though I do not always test each goat every single year. I do not test my established herd for CL or Johnes yearly because of the unreliability of the tests, but I have never had an abscess/Johnes and am more than happy to pull a test of any kind on any animal that a buyer is interested in purchasing at the buyer’s expense, as long as the goat being tested is at least six months old. Herd testing is done through Biotracking and/or WADDL. I post copies of my herd health test results here.
I do not have a closed herd at this time. You may see this term used, so I want to explain it: A closed herd is one that does not add new stock. Often the term is used to imply that a herd only adds new males every so often. I do not have a closed herd as my herd is not big enough to allow for that yet, and I am still expanding my herd as well as working toward breeding the best stock that I can — for this reason I do still need to bring in fresh blood every so often.
All new stock comes from tested herds and, as mentioned below, is tested twice for CAE, Johnes, and CL prior to introduction to the herd. Tennessee is a TB/brucellosis free state, so I do not test for that.
I do focus on minimizing my herd’s exposure to outside animals. All incoming animals need to be quarantined before introduction into an established herd. This applies to any new animal of any species, but is especially important with livestock. New livestock coming in is always quarantined for a minimum of thirty days, but three months is ideal.
New incoming adult goats are tested for CAE, Johnes, and CL prior to being introduced into the main herd. I only buy kids from clean tested herds. When the goat comes onto my property, I quarantine adults for three months and kids for three months or longer. Kids are quarantined until they reach six months of age, at which time they are old enough to test. I then test/retest the animal, and if all is clear I introduce it into my established herd. I do sometimes allow shorter quarantine periods when buying from tested herds I know and trust, but I never quarantine shorter than a month. Even with healthy, disease free animals, different locations can have different parasites, and quarantine limits the spread of new parasites to the existing herd.
I do not board goats for others, and I do not offer stud service.
Visits are by appointment only. Not only can I not guarantee that I will always be available, I also have a strict protocol for visitors that must be followed for admittance. I require visitors to bleach their shoes and clean their hands. Visitors are not allowed to bring their animals of any kind, and any that do happen to show up with a pet must leave it in their car. I ask that all visitors wear fresh clothes that have not been exposed to other livestock of any kind. Visitors are also not allowed into the main barn and living area of the herd, but can view the goats easily from outside.
All the goats are fed free-choice high quality hay, clean water, good quality loose goat mineral (blocks are worthless for goats), and baking soda. These things are available to them 24/7. In the summer, the goats will eat little hay in favor of eating the fresh green grasses, weeds, shrubs, and young trees when available, but even then hay should be available at all times. Hay is the cornerstone of a goat’s diet, especially when browse is not available, and should not be skimped on. I like to feed lespedeza hay, because it has been shown i studies to reduce gastrointestinal nematodes and coccidia. Grass hay is also a good choice, and I fed it for years before finding lespedeza.
I give alfalfa (sometimes pellets, sometimes chaffhaye when I can feed it fast enough to prevent mold, sometimes hay when I can find it — it’s not grown here much) to does who are in the last month of pregnancy or lactating, growing kids, or anyone needing a boost to condition. 90% of the time when mature does are dry and mature bucks are not in rut, they will keep condition (or even grow fat) on just their hay and browse. Alfalfa has a high protein content and is quite rich, so it’s more than what most dry, non-stressed adult goats need. Alfalfa in hay form is not quite as rich as the concentrates and makes a great feed for goats if it’s available, and can be mixed with grass hay to cut down the richness for bucks. Alfalfa pellets are great for slowing down a doe’s eating on the stand so she doesn’t get antsy, and she benefits from the protein and calcium.
During the growing season, which is fairly long in western TN, I use a rotational system to graze the herd. I try to let browse reach at least 6″ height before turning the goats out onto it, and when possible I follow my goats with another species. My system is far from perfect, but I work toward improving it each year. Does in milk are given top grazing priority in any situation where one or more of the pastures has not fully grown back. Rotating is extremely useful in preventing parasites, which goats are especially prone to.
Only does in the last week of pregnancy. milking does, and growing kids are given grain routinely. Giving grain to bucks or wethers can kill them by causing urinary calculi due to the phosphorus content, and it easily causes does who are not producing milk to become overweight. Unless something is going on causing a male goat to lose condition (like rut, parasite issues, etc), it does not need grain or alfalfa when high quality hay is available. They will become overweight at best or get urinary stones. Please do not kill your boys with kindness.
I start to give does a very small amount of grain, about a half a cup, the last week of pregnancy. On the milk stand after giving birth they get as much alfalfa as they can eat before I’m done milking and their grain ration. How much grain they receive depends on their condition and production. I typically give about 1 lb grain for every 3 lbs of milk produced daily and adjust according to the individual’s condition.
In addition to the problems it can cause bucks and wethers, grain is also not great for the rumen and if fed out of proportion can cause ketosis, acidosis, and hypocalcemia. If grain is fed too much or too early to pregnant does, it can also cause fetuses to grow too large and result in birthing complications. The food needs of the doe do not change at all during the first two months of pregnancy. After that, the doe will naturally increase her consumption of hay/forage. After my first year of raising goats and dealing with a c-section from a set of overgrown twins compounded by a narrow pelvis, which I believe to be because I overfed the doe, I have not given pregnant does grain until the last week of pregnancy, and this works very well. Does who are being milked while pregnant continue to get a milking ration up until they are dried off for two months before kidding again, because they still need those extra calories for production. Extra calories given a dry pregnant doe go straight to the kids. There are exceptions — I have given grain to pregnant doe once who dropped condition due to parasites. However, in an otherwise healthy doe in good condition, she doesn’t need the extra grain.
Lactating does, on the other hand, cannot maintain condition and production when lactating without supplemental grain. They need the extra nutrition (mainly carbs and fat, as much of the protein will be coming from alfalfa) to reach peak production and stay in good shape. Growing kids are also offered grain until they are about six months to a year old to promote good growth. I switch up my feeding rations sometimes. I have made mix-your-own feed blends and purchased commercial. The one thing I always choose is to only feed non-GMO and soy-free to all of my livestock. I aim for somewhere around 16% protein, and I top dress with black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS) for the added healthy fats. I often feed a 4:1 or 3:1 ration of oats:BOSS as my grain.
I feed dried red raspberry leaf to does starting about a month or two from kidding date. The raspberry leaf is beneficial to the uterus and also contains calcium, which is vital to lactating does to prevent hypocalcemia. I also offer Icelandic kelp to my herd year round. While most people provide kelp free-choice, it is so pricey that I instead set it out once a week. Mondays are “kelp days,” and the goats love it.
Changes to feed must be made gradually. Goats have sensitive rumens and changing feed too quickly can cause a lot of problems — from loose stool to bloat or enterotoxemia and death. Always change or increase slowly and keep plenty of their usual grass hay and baking soda available at all times. This includes being slowly introduced to rich pasture as well, if they have previously not been on pasture.
I provide free choice loose minerals. Currently, I am using Right Now Onyx by Cargill, but I have used Sweetlix Meat Maker in the past as well. Both work well. It is important for goats to have a loose mineral; they cannot get enough of what they need from blocks due to their soft tongues and lack of upper teeth. It is important to get a loose mineral formulated for goats or cows as well so that it has appropriate levels of copper (at least 1500 PPM)
I copper bolus at four month intervals — usually April, August, and December. I have read that copper levels drop significantly four months post-bolusing, and so have transitioned from a six-month schedule to the four-month and am pleased with the results. This schedule seems to work better for my herd. Other herds may need to bolus less often — six months is common — depending on the conditions of their land.
Believe me when I say that copper makes a huge difference. You will see it in short order in the overall condition of the animal and its hair coat. Copper is vital for reproductive health and parasite resistance as well. Copper deficiency can result in failure to conceive or carry to term, low fertility, coarse or faded hair, inability to resist parasites, and death. Boli can be purchased at jefferspet.com and now come in goat size. (They previously came in cattle size and had to be repacked.) The brand I recommend is Copasure. I have tried another, cheaper brand in the past and was not as pleased with the results. Sometimes you do get what you pay for. In order to give these, you have to get them down the goat’s throat, which means getting them past the tongue and the molars. If you want this to happen without losing your fingers, you should go to the grocery/pharmacy store and pick up a kit for (human) yeast infections. Be sure to get one that contains the applicators. The applicators just happen to be the perfect size to fit a small copper bolus pill into and it won’t break when your goat starts to chew it as you put it in their mouths. They act as miniature bolus guns and are life (finger?) savers.
Alternatively, if a goat likes prunes or marshmallows/prunes/applesauce, etc, you can sneak the pills in them by hiding them in the treat. Each goat is different, though, and you are bound to have some picky eaters, so I still recommend getting the applicator. I personally find that the applicator is the only way to be sure everyone gets what they need. . . and I sometimes still find pills the Machiavellian little monsters have spit out after I thought I had them in. Some people also top dress a bit of grain with some molasses (to make it sticky) and the bolus. Some people argue that boluses should not be chewed, but I have found that even using a bolus gun does not prevent the chewing.
I used to give selenium and vitamin e gel pre-breeding to both bucks and does, and a month prior to kidding in does. However, after dealing with some issues such as retained placentas and failure for goats to conceive on the first try, I have begun to offer selenium/vit e powder from Caprine Supply free-choice alongside their regular loose mineral. The selenium is mixed with wheat middlins, so the goats do not eat the selenium when they do not need it. Middlins are not particularly appetizing. I found that when I first put the selenium powder out, several goats ate quite a bit. After having access to it, they now eat it only a bit when needed. This method of supplementing selenium is much more effective for my herd than the gel, which did not seem to be providing adequate amounts. I have not seen a retained placenta since using the powder.
Selenium affects fertility and reproduction and can also cause white muscle disease or weak muscles and joints in newborn kids.
Rotational grazing, allowing browse to grow above 6″ high, keeping bedding clean, providing proper mineral supplementation (especially copper), keeping feed and water clean, and breeding for good resistance are the most important steps to preventing a heavy internal parasite load. However, it’s inevitable that at some point, even in the most well-maintained herd, some goats will end up needing to be dewormed. Part of this is due to the fact that goats are primarily designed to eat UP, on tall weeds, grasses, shrubs, and trees, and not DOWN on the typical pasture type available to them in captivity. In a perfect browsing situation, they would almost never ingest the primary internal parasite that gives them trouble — the barber pole worm (haemonchus contortus) — because the larvae cannot climb above about 4″. Unfortunately, most of us are not able to provide the truly ideal browsing environment consistently to our goats. In addition, barber pole worm thrives in the climate that many of us in the US live in — warm and humid. We have to remember that goats initially developed in either mountains or deserts, so our landscape here in most of North America is quite different from their ideal locale.
Dewormers are liquids most often given orally, so all you need is a syringe or drench gun (a drench gun is truly a wonderful invention!) and your medicine. I have found that herbal dewormers do not work as treatment for parasites, and studies have shown this is the case as well. I do believe in using herbal supplements to support overall health and immunity as part of a protocol to provide the best possible immune system for prevention, but they can’t be relied on to prevent or treat parasites.
Some of the dewormers on the market include moxidectin (Cydectin), ivermectin (Ivomec or Ivomec Plus), or albendazole (Valbazen), and fenbendazole (Safe Guard). Most of these are off-label for goats, dewormer resistance is a huge problem for goats. Fenbendazole and ivermectin are two that parasites often show resistance to, but there can be resistance to any of them. Always use the weakest dewormer that works in your herd — so if you are lucky enough for fenbendazole to work in your herd, keep using it until it doesn’t work anymore. Don’t jump to another dewormer until you need to. Never give Ivomec Plus or Valbazen to pregnant does as these can cause abortion or birth defect. Older wisdom advised to give dewormers intended for topical use internally, but that is no longer recommended. The majority of these dewormers are available in oral forms, and those are what should be used. Dewormers are often dosed at higher dosages than the label, particularly if the label is not for goats. I’m not comfortable providing dosage amounts, but a quick google search or call to your caprine veterinarian can advise you. I will give an example; when I had a pregnant doe come down with an overload of barberpole, the veterinarian had me dose her at 4x the label dosage for fenbendazole for several days in a role. Fenbendazole has lost a lot of efficacy, but in my case fecals showed this worked. Fenbenzadole is given at extremely high levels for goats with meningeal worm, as it is the only one proven to successfully pass through the blood-brain barrier. Note: Ivomec Plus should be given as a sub-q injection; giving internally can cause rapid die-off and the goat may bleed out. Likewise, if the goat has a very heavy parasite load it is safest to start with a weaker dewormer first, then the stronger dewormer a few days later to help prevent mass die off of internal parasites and resulting death. Levimisole (Prohibit) is starting to be used by some goat owners, but I highly, highly recommend only using it if all other dewormers no longer work in your herd. Please. These stronger, last-resort dewormers need to be used as little as possible so that they remain effective as long as possible.
It used to be common practice to deworm all animals on a schedule. However, research has found that drenching individual animals on an as-needed basis is much more effective and prevents parasite resistance. Do NOT deworm all the goats in your herd on a schedule. ONLY deworm when NEEDED based on individual need. FAMACHA, fecals, and body condition should be used to determine parasite load. See this page for more on FAMACHA.
Lice are pesky little critters that you really have to keep an eye out for in winter and early spring. The goat’s fur is thick then and lice just take that as an invitation. You can see them if you look closely under the goat’s hair coat. To control them, shaving the goat is helpful, diatomaceous earth can be used in bedding and topically (though it is drying to their skin and should not be inhaled), and topical medications (such as Cylence) can be purchased at Jeffers.com if it becomes necessary. Lice can cause anemia, but they typically do not cause hair loss unless by excessive scratching rubbing off hair.
Mites will cause hair loss, and mites are often transmitted via infected straw. Mites cannot be seen with the naked eye. Sulfur based topical ointments such as Nu Stock can be used for mites. It stinks, but it works. (If it doesn’t work, ivermectin can also be used topically.)
When I started with goats in 2008, I chose to use CD/T vaccines as a preventative measure and did so until 2012. However, I have since stopped giving routine vaccinations. I have discussed vaccination with other experienced breeders who also try to be natural in their management when possible, and have decided to give up routine vaccinating unless it at some point causes a problem. Vaccinating presents a risk for severe anaphylaxis as well as reactions at the location which resemble CL abscesses. I believe that proper management and healthy animals can do wonders to prevent tetanus and enterotoximia. I now only administer vaccines when necessary. For example, though it has not happened yet, I would administer a tetanus vaccine to a goat who was injured.
If you do chose to vaccinate and wish to minimize the risk of an abscess forming at the injection site, be sure to use proper vaccination practices. When giving a subcutaneous vaccine, such as CDT (most vacs are subq [under the skin], but hormones like oxytocin, lutelyse, and some others are intramuscular), it is important to break all the way through the skin layer before injecting the medication. If the needle is still within the layers of skin, the shot will not distribute as well, will be more difficult and painful to give, and will be more likely to cause a reaction. When I give shots, I always give subq shots in the skin behind the arm. This is an easy place to to create the ‘tent’ in which the needle is inserted, and is also not as common a CL abscess location. This way, if an animal does react (which hasn’t happened for me in a goat, but has happened in my cow), it will be easy to recognize as a reaction to the vac because you will know that is where you just gave shots. Also rub the area after injecting to help the medication distribute better; otherwise a lump of medication can be seen under the skin (which is not the same as an abscess but resembles one).
Goat housing does not have to be fancy. Mine consists of a converted horse barn, a three sided lean-to, and two small buck houses. The basic requirements for goats is that the wind and rain be blocked. You want good ventilation, but not a situation where wind can blow directly on the animals. Sturdy walls and at least three sides and a solid roof works well. Goats are surprisingly well-equipped for doing well in both cold and heat. Most people underestimate how sturdy livestock animals are in the weather. If they are kept dry and not in the wind and have ample shade and water in the summer, they will usually do absolutely fine.
Exceptions are for the ill, newborns in extremely cold weather, and the very old. Pay attention to the ears of the newborns in very cold weather as they are prone to frostbite, and be sure they are completely dry. The smaller the kid, the more likely it will struggle to maintain its body temperature. I have only experienced one kidding season since 2009 in which the kids needed a heat lamp, but I also try not to kid in January or February, and I live in the south. It’s important to remember this: Use of heat lamps and sweaters for goat kids is dangerous. One of my northern goat friends lost a kid in the winter of 2015 due to its sweater getting caught around its mother’s leg. The kid was strangled. Numerous barn fires have also been caused by heat lamps. Only use these items when it is really and truly necessary in order to keep kids alive. Don’t use them because you feel bad for the kids or because you think sweaters are cute. These are for life saving measures only. (The kid that my friend lost was not maintaining its body temps in the extreme cold, so the sweater was necessary in her situation, but it illustrates the risks.)
A helpful hint: One way to assess the body temp of a kid is to stick your finger in its mouth. It should have an immediate suck reflex and the mouth should be warm. If the mouth is cool, the kid needs to be warmed immediately. Cold animals will also shiver and hunch up. If an animal is shivering more than a small amount, it is not warm enough. The one exception I have seen to this is directly after drinking cold water. We don’t have electric in our barn so in the winter I have to break ice for the animals. I have seen healthy animals that were regulating their body temperatures well shiver right after drinking icy water. They return to normal shortly after.
When using heat lamps, Premier 1 has the best I’ve ever seen. I think it would be quite difficult for a bulb in one of their lamps to be broken (and thus cause a fire). Keep the lamps secure and keep electrical cords away from curious chewing mouths. Keep the lamps a safe distance from flammable materials. I like to set up a kid corner that allows the kids to slip in under the heat lamp but keeps adults away from it.
The most important thing is to make sure your fencing and housing are sturdy and cannot allow goats to get out or predators to get in. I prefer 4″ woven wire with an electric strand along the bottom, but cattle panels and welded wire also work. I highly recommend the Stay Tuff brand fencing, which is a high tinsel woven wire. Stay Tuff does wonderfully on hills and is the best I’ve found to keep goats in. Cattle panels are particularly sturdy and cannot be pushed under, but they are cost prohibitive. Both panels and welded wire are more difficult to use on uneven ground than woven wire. Fences should be at least 4′ tall to prevent jumpers. I prefer to lock all of my housing and fencing entrances to prevent curious (or worse) people from opening them. We have had children on two different occasions climb into our horse fence, and livestock theft does occur, so locks are a good idea. To quote Pa Ingalls, “Where there are horses there are horse thieves.”
My does are a minimum of one year old and 40 lbs prior to freshening. The most important thing is to consider when deciding whether or not a doe is old enough to breed is her size. A minimum of 40 lbs is usually the standard breeding size for Nigerians and 80 lbs is common for standard breeds. Standard breeds can often be bred as young as eight months if they are appropriately sized, but this is not a good idea for Nigerians. Nigerians are smaller than standard sized dairy goats and they sometimes grow at a slower pace. They typically keep growing into their 3rd and 4th year, especially bucks, but are usually large enough to breed by at least their 2nd year. If a doe is still too small to be bred as a two year old, I would seriously question if she would ever be able to be bred.
It is unsafe to breed a doe until she is mature. With does older than two years who will be first fresheners, excess fat collection can impede conception, make birth more difficult, or contribute to ketosis, so if you have an older first freshener keep a close eye on her condition and put her on a “diet” before breeding if needed. It’s important not to let breeding does get fat. Don’t give grain to dry does unless their body condition or poor hay quality requires it.
Does are typically bred to kid once a year, but sometimes a doe will “milk through,” which means that they will continue milking past the typical time period. Does are typically able to continue having kids up until 10 years of age, sometimes a bit older. The doe’s condition and ease of kidding should be taken into account when this decision is made. Kidding problems can occur to any doe at any age, but as they get older there is a higher risk. If a doe has difficult births, high-number births, or struggles to stay in condition while lactating, she may need to be retired sooner than age 10. If she does really well, she may be able to breed a little past age 10.
I do not bottle feed kids unless the mother cannot feed them, because it is unnecessary in a clean and tested herd, and it is best for them to be dam raised. It is a myth that kids must be bottle fed in order to be friendly. Time spent with them is the key to friendly kids. I want my goats to learn appropriate goat behavior from their mothers. I feel that repeated bottle feeding generation after generation can eventually breed some mothering instinct out of the line. That is just my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth. Either way, I believe that a strong mothering instinct is extremely important to consider when breeding livestock with sustainability in mind, and it’s impossible to assess that instinct if kids are pulled at birth. If livestock cannot successfully reproduce and care for young on their own, they are not sustainable.
Of course I do my best to make the best possible circumstances and to attend every birth, because mama’s do need a little help sometimes especially when it’s cold or they have multiples quickly. In the wild even the best mothers would lose kids under those circumstances. And of course things do go wrong in labor sometimes. I am absolutely not a “they’ll just have them whenever, wherever on their own and everything will be fine” person because that is simply not true, and I think taking that attitude is extremely irresponsible.
I won’t breed does who have major kidding problems repeatedly. Kidding problems can crop up as flukes due to placement or an abnormally large single kid, but in the case of repeated difficulties in the same doe or a severe issue (like a c-section), the doe should be retired. I have a three strike rule. If a doe has a particularly difficult labor requiring a lot of assistance or veterinary help, I will give her one more kidding because malrepresentaion and abnormally large kids can occur by happenstance. If it happens again she is retired from breeding. I have a one-strike rule for c-sections.
The vast majority of births will go smoothly, and Nigerians are known for being easy kidders. Sometimes they give birth too easily in fact, and the babies shoot out before mom can clean and dry them. This is another good reason to be present at birth. Kids can get chilled or suffocate if mom has too many too fast and can’t care for all of them quickly enough. I also lost a kid once when the doe gave birth without even noticing it herself. I honestly think she didn’t even realize she had pushed out a second kid — I didn’t until I noticed something strange looking behind her. It was a very small kid and just a little premature — its teeth had not come through the gums yet. Another day or two of gestation and that kid may have lived.
I prefer to place the doe and buck together when the doe is in heat (sometimes called “hand breeding”) rather than “pen breeding” which requires letting the buck and doe live together for a month. I do this so that I can know the dates of kidding and be present in case I am needed. Does or kids can be lost if the human is not present at the birth to intervene in an emergency. However, some of my does have subtle heats that I still have trouble detecting, and so I still use pen breeding at times. I will often use a hybrid method and allow the doe and buck to spend some time together while carefully noting changes in behavior each day so that I can make a note of when the doe was in heat. However, sometimes does go into heat at night and can cause a missed breeding date.
Disbudding is a process which uses heat to kill the horn buds in kids and prevent horns from growing. When done correctly, disbudding takes only seconds and causes no damage. It will hurt at first — it’s a hot iron, after all — and they will protest, but as soon as it’s done they are fine. It is cauterized and infection is not a great risk. On some rare occasions, mild localized swelling may occur and will go down quickly and cause no permanent problems. If severe swelling occurs, the iron was left on too long or placed too low (not on the horn buds) and the kid may need medication from the vet to reduce swelling and prevent brain swelling. A few weeks after disbudding, the scabs will come off of the burned buds and may bleed a little. You can apply wound ointment at this time.
The most important thing about disbudding is to do it correctly and at the correct age. Have someone experienced teach you before trying to do it yourself. Doing it early and using a properly heated iron makes the process take less time and helps prevent scurs. The iron should not be on their head longer than 5 seconds at a time. Does should be done by 2 weeks, bucks by 1 week of age. Be careful not to accidentally disbud a polled goat. If a parent is polled and you are not positive you have horn buds, wait a bit more to be sure. There are many good picture tutorials online containing more information about the actual process.
Disbudding may seem cruel, but the consequences of horned animals can be crueler. They can, purposefully or accidentally, seriously injure people or other goats with their horns. They can also get their heads trapped due to their horns and be killed by predators — I know two people who have had this happen. I also have a friend who owned a horned goat who had his horn kicked and broken by a horse, which would be much more painful and dangerous than disbudding as the horns open into the sinus cavity and can bleed profusely. Bucks can also break horns off while fighting during rut. Furthermore, as humans we work closely with these dairy goats, often with our faces near their heads. Horns are also at eye level for children. Disbudding is much safer for the goats and the humans. Dairy goats can also not be shown if they have horns, and they have trouble fitting into the milking stand as well. There is also the decrease in value and likelihood of horned goats finding a great home with an experienced owner/breeder, the lack of ability for them to participate in 4H, and the probability that someone down the line may want to remove their horns – -a process much more painful for an adult goat than disbudding is for a kid.
I will not withhold disbudding for a buyer. Disbudding is the best and safest thing for the goats themselves and their owners. Many people use the argument that horns help goats defend themselves and regulate their heat. Neither is true. Horns simply are not sufficient to protect a goat from a predator, period. A quick look at nature can apprise you of that. Goats should be housed securely and provided with protection (secure fencing, livestock guardians) by their owners in order to protect them from predators. Goats also handle the heat just fine without horns. The temperature regulation they provide, if any, is minimal. Also, many goats are born naturally polled (hornless) — if disbudded goats were unable to handle heat without horns, then polled goats would not be able to stand it, either. Also consider the fact that if horns release heat in summer, they would also release heat in winter. There are thousands of disbudded and polled goats from Florida to Alaska, and from California to New England that do just fine in all types of climates and weather.
These are, in my opinion, simply excuses to avoid an unpleasant task. To each their own, but none of my goats will forgo disbudding barring extreme circumstances causing me to miss the time window.
Disbudding will sometimes result in scurs, which are partial horn growths that can be tiny (button scurs) or large and potentially troublesome. This is especially common in bucks, but does can get them as well. Proper disbudding technique helps prevent scurs, but they do sometimes crop up regardless. These are usually harmless and only aesthetically displeasing, but some scurs grow long and twisted; if this happens and the scurs begin to curl in toward the head, you may have to trim them back with a flexible wire saw (going 1/2-1″ at a time) to prevent them from growing into the skull.
Do not trust that your vet can disbud for you. I have heard horror story after horror story of vets disbudding kids incorrectly. Vets are not trained to do this. Most likely they are familiar with disbudding calves, not kids, if they have experience doing it at all. Find an experienced breeder to do this, or a vet well versed in goats and familiar with disbudding kids.
Do not use caustic paste to disbud. This is far more uncomfortable for the the kids than a hot iron. The iron lasts a few seconds whereas the paste burns for several minutes. On top of the that, the paste can also get on the kids ears, eyes, skin, or the dam’s udder and cause major problems. Even worse, the paste is not effective on goats to begin with, so it is a wasted effort.
Lastly, I want to hash out a pet peeve of mine. When breeding two separate breeds in which one is significantly larger than the other, (such as Lamancha x Nigerian), the male should always be the smaller breed and the female the larger. Period. This is not negotiable. I have heard many horror stories of this type of breeding gone wrong when the female was the smaller breed and the male the larger (in many species as well). People throw around all kinds of excuses about the doe controlling birth weight/size or how they’ve done it for years and never had a problem, but these don’t hold water.
It is documented fact that the male does influence birth weight and size. In fact, they do genetic testing for this trait in cattle so that producers can choose low birth weight bulls for their heifers. The truth is that the sire provides 50% of genetics of the offspring, and this can and will cause kids to be too large for a doe to birth. No, it won’t cause problems every time. Yes, problems can happen when the sire is the same breed or smaller. But why on earth knowingly increase the chance for problems when it is so easy to remove that as a potential cause??
Please, breed responsibly my friends.