Yesterday was our first goat-kid-disbudding experience.  Perhaps next year I can have pictures, but suffice it to say, disbudding is not a pleasant experience.  I didn’t know how, so a very kind fellow goat enthusiast and, coincidentally a vet, offered to do the deed for me.  I hauled Lilly over to her house yesterday and she gave me a lesson.  Not knowing exactly what to expect, I opted to leave the kids home, lest they be plagued by nightmares for the next 10 years.  Without pictures, it is difficult, but I will try to explain as best I can….

The gruesome event involves heating up a hot-iron of sorts (this one was electrical) that is shaped like a hollow cylinder.  Then, we shaved her forehead area to make the little horn buds easier to see (Lilly’s weren’t as developed as DayJay’s).  When the iron is hot enough, the kid is held so she can’t move (several ways to accomplish this), the iron is placed over the bud, and held in place for a set number of seconds–in Lilly’s case, it was 12 seconds.  The iron literally burns a hole almost down to the skull, and it stinks to high-heaven.  And yes, it hurts the baby.  Then, the lady placed an ice bag over the burned area, which simultaneously cools and numbs the area while also sticking to and removing the thin layer of tissue that covers the horn itself.  She then took the hot iron and burned the horn itself until it resembled a “copper penny” in look and size.  She explained that’s when you know you are done.  After one side is done, you repeat the process on the other horn bud.  When the process is complete, baby looks like a mutant for a few days.

Once it was over, Lilly settled right into my arms, and seemed none the worse for wear.  She didn’t appear to be any pain, though I wouldn’t touch the area and find out, poor thing.  I arrived back home, and put her back with mom, and she went right to nursing. 

 I have also been debating removing Lilly’s wattles (the 2 little things hanging under her neck).  The vet told me it was fine to do so, and said the method of “banding,” or, in our case, tying thread tightly around them, would be perfectly acceptable.  I guess I’m gonna go for it. 

So, I can imagine a good number of my city-readers are asking why we would subject our critters to this.  Let me explain.  This is an area we have debated and gone back and forth on for quite some time.  We love the idea of our animals being all natural, just the way God designed them.  Finally, though, we realized there were a few problems with the natural notion. 

You see, although natural is great, our goats are not, and cannot be all natural.  That changed the day the goat was domesticated.  The fact that we are keeping our goats confined in pen, no matter how big, means they aren’t completely natural.  An all-natural environment would include lots of rocks and hills to file down their hooves and rub their horns on to control growth.  Our forested area is far from that ideal.  All natural would not involve massive, milk-producing udders, which is something our goats have been selectively bred for.  It would also not involve multiple goats or people in confined areas–for any length of time.   By domesticating the goat, we have, in essence, made ourselves somewhat responsible for assisting in their welfare.  We are responsible for feeding them for good milk production and helping maintain the health of those udders we bred them for.  Even if they could be turned out to eat all brush and find their own food, during the peak milk-production season, those udders are so unnaturally large that they would be torn to bits by the scrubby food that goats love.  Because there are no rocks or the massive space required to keep the hoof growth under control, it is now my job to trim the excess growth.  Because I want good, healthy milk, I must feed good, healthy feed.  We are also now responsible to some extent for protecting them and others from injury.  Horns can potentially cause great damage to large dairy udders.  They can get caught in unnatural fencing.  Worse, yet, I have personally witnessed my most timid, standoff-ish doe, Sara, head-butt little N right into the fence.  Imagine if she had horns and that happened!  My first and foremost responsibility in this situation is to my children, and ensuring their safety around these large animals.  Goats aren’t mean by nature, however, they also don’t know how powerful they are.  Whether they come and playfully rub or butt a child, or defensively charge, either way, horns have the potential to inflict great injury.  That’s what God designed them for–to protect the goat.  On our farm, however, with our numerous young children, we just can’t risk it.  Thus, the horns must come off.  We have finally decided that a few brief moments of pain for a baby goat saves us the possibility of many severe injuries to both goats and people. 

The wattles are another issue.  Although it isn’t entirely necessary to remove them, the problem in our situation develops when the doe has her babies (or any other doe in the same pen).  Based on my research, the only real issue with wattles is when you let the does nurse their kids naturally (which we have chosen to do).  Apparently, kids often mistake the wattles for teats, and cause tremendous irritation to that area.  We don’t have personal experience here, but have learned that the easiest, most painless time to remove them is when the doe is a baby.  So, in the hopes of preventing future problems, I will be removing her wattles.  This should not be a painful process, though.  I guess they are comparable to the “skin tags” that people get.  When they are tiny, you can easily band (or tie a thread tightly around), which basically just causes the tissue to die and fall off.  The vet told me it posed significantly less risk of infection or complication by doing it this way, rather than trying to surgically remove it later, should a problem develop.

So there you have it.  We believe in treating our animals as naturally as possible, but by having domesticated them, we must strike a balance between turning them totally loose to nature, and providing the necessary care to allow them to thrive in our humanized environment.