Monday, April 6, 2015

Goats & Sheep : Disbudding Debate

Jenna at recently talked about dehorning goats. Good topic that any small goat or sheep holder needs to consider. Same for cattle owners, but I'll only be talking in regard to goats and sheep since I've never owned a cow. To horn or not to horn, that is the question. Pros and cons. First a definition-- dehorning in my discussion applies to adults, disbudding applies to young kids. Young kids don't have horns, they have horn buds where the horns will eventually grow.

In the USA we still have the right to decide if we wish to disbud our kids. In some countries, that right has been taken away and disbudding has been made illegal. So I'm not going to get into the political aspects. But I'll give you some background. In many European countries it is entirely banned. In the UK, disbudding is banned unless done by a veterinarian and under anesthesia. Coming from a veterinary background, I'm not all that sure I agree with this. Whether this whole disbudding ban/regulation is good or not is still debatable. There are pros and cons, to be sure. It's a complicated debate fraught with emotion and questionable argument.

Disbudding kids is done when they are young, usually between 2 to 10 days of age, depending upon the health of the kid and the development of the horn bud. The most humane and quick method is to use a hot iron designed for disbudding the particular size animal. The growth ring of the horn bud is burned for 5-10 seconds. Yes, it hurts at the time. (But so do vaccinations for infants and children.) The pain seems to be transitory. The kids immediately go back to nursing if returned to their mom immediately.  Whatever discomfort they may have afterward doesn't appear to be much worse that the sore, tender site of a childhood vaccination. Not to belittle the procedure, but it isn't all that debilitating if it is done correctly. The problems arise when disbudding is not done correctly. 

So are my own goats disbudded? No. Why? Because they came to me too old for disbudding, except for the three that were born here. I didn't disbud them because I didn't plan to keep them. Would I disbud kids I planned to keep for myself? You betcha! So I'll go into the pros and cons that I've weighed inside my head. 

...causes pain when the procedure is being done. 
...there is a chance that the procedure could be done incorrectly, thus severely harming or killing the kid/lamb. of the person doing the procedure is not required. By the way, just because the person is a veterinarian doesn't mean that they were trained to do disbudding. Oftentimes it is a lay person who is the expert. procedure complications can occur. 
...anesthesia often is not used. Post procedure pain relief is often not used. animal cannot use their horns when interacting (butting) with flock members. 
...adults don't have horns to use for scratching their backs. (Neither do naturally polled in animal)s, by the way.)
...adults don't have horns for defense nor fighting. easy "handle" to grab when catching or handling the adults. 

...the long term benefits out weigh the short term discomfort. 
...pain is temporary and beyond the first 10 seconds, does not seem too inhibit the kid/lamb as long as the procedure was done correctly. horns to be accidently knocked off or entangled during fights. horns to injure or kill other flock members. horns to get stuck in fencing. horns to become entangled. horns to cause human injury. 
...dairy animals can enter milking stations easier without horns. 
...non-horned animals can access keyhole feeders. 

Horned animals can be managed ok, of course. But the danger factor isn't eliminated. 

Most sheep and goats with horns are fully aware of them. Besides using them as tools, it strongly affects their temperament and behavior towards others, be they four legged or two. I have seen plenty of instances where a horned goat was incredibly dangerous to be around but once the horns were "knobbed", the aggression ceased. The goat knew that its weapons of pain had been neutralized. I also hear vast more stories of goats and sheep being too aggressive to be around, with just about all those animals being horned (and the billys and rams being non-neutered). Of those animals that had been knobbed (and the intact makes neutered), almost all became manageable. Regretfully for the animals, most simply end up being shot. Dangerous animals don't fit well on a farm. 

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