Horns or No Horns on Goats — Which is Better?

Faithful reader Renee posed a question on the Goat Berries Facebook page recently: What do we goat people feel about horns? I thought this was a great question for discussion, so I’m posting it here — please do add your thoughts on the issue as it can help other goat people make some tough decisions.

First, for anyone who doesn’t know, horns don’t go by sex; that is, you both females and males may have horns. It is a genetic trait (kind of like those adorable wattles), so if you’re breeding goats with horns, you’re probably, although not definitely, going to end up with kids with horns.

My girls are both naturally polled (born without horns), so the horn issue isn’t something we dealt with directly *but* we did aim for hornless, so I suppose you can say that I’m on the “no horn” side –beautiful as they can be. Just look at this dude:

Goat by Shaun Dunmall on Flickr

Goat by Shaun Dunmall on Flickr

From what I’ve read, anecdotes about how dangerous horns can be were the most persuasive to me. Goat horns can be dangerous not only for the goat caretakers and their families but also for fellow goats and other animals; goats do tend to headbutt in play and sometimes aggression and can do serious damage to others in either case.

Then there’s the possibility of the horns getting stuck in fences, etc., and putting the goat in other compromising positions, which can not only cause stress and difficulty in freeing itself (the goat can do major damage and even kill itself trying to get free), but it can also leave him or her exposed to predators — even a dog can kill a goat if it really wants to.

On the flip side, some people argue that disbudding is inhumane and unnatural as horns are goats’ natural defenses and help them cool off as sweat glands.

There’s a good discussion of this issue from a long-time goat caretaker at Fias Co. Farm, so I highly recommend heading over there for more information on this as well as on proper disbudding procedures. For the uninitiated, “disbudding” is the process of removing goat’s horns and really isn’t for the faint of heart — and quite painful for the kids too. Note that you should disbud within the first week of the kid’s life, so if you’re about to have kids, this is something you should think about sooner rather than later so you’re prepared.

For our goat-raising situation, I’d say disbudding would be best for us if faced with the horn dilemma — but this is a personal decision, of course, and I’d love to hear your take on it.

So, goat peeps, what is your position on horns? Do you goats have horns? If your goats get disbudded, do you do it yourself? Also, are your goats mixed — some polled, some horned? How does that work out?

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35 Responses to “Horns or No Horns on Goats — Which is Better?”
  1. michelle
    03.09.2011

    Some excellent comments from FB:

    From Deborah — “Horns are a goats only natural defense. They are the goats only means of cooling off since goats do not have sweat glands. The removal of horns is very painful and can result in permanent brain damage. I just love to look at a beautiful rack of horns on a mature goat. I raise Kiko goats and I think that their horns are magnificent.”

    From Jimmy — “We raise dairy goats and are in close contact with our goats everyday. As beautiful as they are, horns are dangerous. We disbud on day 3 or 4 of a kids life and, yes, it is painful and nasty but the kids are bounding about quickly afterward… and still happy to be in our arms when we reach for them again.

    The few goats in our herd that have horns have gotten in trouble with them – getting caught in fences, pulling feeder on top of themselves etc. Also, even though I’m careful, I’ve been whacked in the face unintentionally on a few occasions. But the worst part is that our horned goats have learned that they can get the best food by ramming the hornless ones in their ribs. They have become bullies that pack a punch. As far as horns being a natural cooling mechanism, that would be a compelling argument if we ever experienced a problem in that area, but so far our herd has weathered the hot summers without a problem. They do have shade and fresh water available to them at all times. As much as I love the look of a goat with horns, if your raising dairy goats, the liabilities far outweigh the benefits in our opinion.”

    Thanks so much for commenting!

    [Reply]

    James Conner Reply:

    I suppose if I were milking and my goats were kept in a pen I might consider dehorning. I have five Alpines who have access to about five acres of chaparral. They clear the area as a firebreak. They were all de-budded before I got them. Three have scurs that have to be trimmed due to growing back into their head if left untended. My eldest wether has scurs that don’t post a risk to his head and are quite long and don’t match. He can defend himself against the coyotes much better than the de-horned goats. I think it depends on the requirements and the situation whether to remove the horns or not.

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  2. 03.11.2011

    I have some with horns and some that are polled. I do have a polled billy goat, so I can selectively breed horns out of the herd. Polled (hornless) is the dominant trait, so it isn’t difficult to selectively breed horns out.

    That said, I’ve had a few issues with goats getting horns stuck–usually the kids figure it out quickly. I’ve only had one hurt herself trying to get unstuck. They will butt heads whether they have horns or not–it does put the hornless ones at a disadvantage, but I’ve not had any serious problems with them fighting–but watch out for collars they can hook with their horns. The horns are convenient for leading and holding the girls.

    You do need to be aware of horns and the issues they can cause, but I don’t think it’s worth the pain of disbudding for me, but I certainly understand disbudding.

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  3. 03.11.2011

    I’m pretty much in the same camp as Teresa. My goats all have horns currently and I like them for “handles” for treating (deworming, etc) but they can cause injury. Just this week I got a goat horn in the ear when I had to lift Lucky Nickel and it caused pretty painful damage. I was lucky it didn’t go further into my ear. The idea of disbudding is very disturbing to me, and yet somehow using the elastrator on the boys doesn’t bother me as much. Maybe it’s because the burning seems far more painful and causes a more visceral reaction for me. I have noticed that the goats with horns are very hard on the hornless sheep if I mix them together. I’m not sure what the best solution is but I just don’t think I could disbud.

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  4. 03.12.2011

    There has been horned and disbudded goats sharing a pasture on our farm for the last 7 years or so. So far it has not been a problem. There has been a few individual goats that loved to get their heads stuck in the cattle panel gates until their horns got to big to fit through, and those are the goats that never learn. They will keep doing it, no matter how many times they get stuck. You can tape a broom handle across their horns to keep them from doing this though.

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  5. Camille
    03.13.2011

    I have 13 Angora goats. They all have their horns. I think the goats look great with their horns. And even though I don’t have a problem catching them, its great to have built in handles. When I first got my goats a couple years ago. There was one that ‘special’, and it took her a couple months to figure out that she would get stuck. But she figured it out. And I have not had a problem since. Even with new additions to the farm. I guess I could see how somebody would not want horns. But, I personally don’t think its worth inflicting the pain on them.

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  6. michelle
    03.14.2011

    Another great comment from Facebook from Acres of Hope Farms:

    “I absolutely agree with Jimmy. I have dairy girls as well. Mostly LaManchas. (Love the little ears) I have only been doing this three years but i can honestly say disbudding is the worst!!! I hate doing it!!! However the damage that can be …done unintentionally added with the dangers of getting caught up in fences outweighs most any argument for keep them (FOR ME). This is my personal opinion i know people have very strong feelings about this topic.

    This is the first kidding season that i have been able to do it by myself with nobody holding my hand. We always make sure momma is very close so right after we are done baby can go nurse and be comforted. It amazes me how quickly they recover from this…..”

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  7. Kaz
    04.02.2011

    We breed Cashmeres. Our breed standard (meat goats in general) call for horns. I can see where a dairy operation running high number of goats in a small area would have to be concerned about injuries. Our pastured goats even when establishing trip order do not injure each other, do not get stuck in things and I can’t imagine herd management without these built-in handles! However, I am sick and tired of people saying that horned goats are dangerous! If you are aware of your goat and your space you DO NOT GET HURT! Even my bucks are aware of their horns at all times! Do your homework before you invest in the animals. Do you want a milk source? Dual purpose animal? Pet?

    Excellent advice, Kaz, thank you!

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  8. Drew
    06.20.2011

    We are preparing to get 2 pygmy goats that were born a couple of days ago. We have a very small backyard farm with ducks and chickens and the goats will be the final addition. We have 5 children from 14 years to 3 months old and possibly a 6th in the next year or so and are concerned that our pet goats with horns may be a danger to our children and dog. We strongly feel that disbudding seems like such an awful process but we are concerned that having a toddler running around the yard with pets that have horns could be a bad idea, and so unfortunately I think that is what we are going to do. It seems that the prevailing belief is that this is a matter of personal choice with no definitive right or wrong answer so we are having a tough time deciding what is best. If there is anyone who has had a similar scenario please help figure out what the best course of action is. Thanks.

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  9. 08.08.2011

    We have Angoras, so they are not disbudded. I have never kept a hornless goat so I have no idea what it would be like. As a general rule, we just *never* put our head or face close to the goats, it’s just asking for trouble, especially with the kids when their hornes are still spikes. Our Angoras are very respectful of people, but the dominance games with other goats almost never stop, so we pay very close attention when around them.

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    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for your input, Tracee! Much appreciated :)

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  10. june
    09.02.2011

    I have a male goat that I was given as he was to be bottle fed. I asked the vet to desex ,vaccinate and dehorn as my elderly parents live with me and I was worried about the headbutting.If I had known that the horns would grow back I wouldn’t have asked the vet to dehorn him. I now have to keep taking him to a different vet who I get to trim his horns as one grows straight towards his skull and the other grows up and towards the front of his head.I feel bad but nothing was explained to me and the new vet we see has explained they will keep growing back so we have to keep them trimmed.I wouldn’t dehorn again unless a vet could guarantee they wouldn’t grow back.Sorry we had to learn the lesson this way but if we ever get another goat I’ll have learnt my lesson.cheers

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    Hi June, sorry to hear of your troubles. What you’re referring to are “scurs” that can grow if disbudding isn’t done correctly and/or at the right time. Unfortunately it sounds like the vet didn’t do a very good job in the first place. Read more about disbudding here: http://fiascofarm.com/goats/disbudding.htm

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  11. june
    09.02.2011

    hi Michelle, just read your bit about scurs and that is what we have.Billy did bleed when they trimmed one horn at the top of his head as it must have been loose .I would like to try the wire cutting method as this sounds better than the vet using dog nail clippers and cow horn cutters which was used the other day.I don’t know if I should leave them for a long while as he play headbutts with my dogs and the families legs as we walk.At the moment they are short due to being cut but the cutting is upsetting for both Billy and I and I wish I had a permanent solution but I don’t.Thanks for you help ,I wish I had found out this information 10 months ago when I got Billy , I probably would have left the horns as the vets here don’t know much about goats.thanx again

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    So very sorry you’re going through this June. Hopefully your boy is doing well otherwise.

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  12. june
    09.03.2011

    Thanks, our boy is doing great.He puts a smile on faces when we take him for a walk with our dogs around the streets.He is very loveable .We live in NSW Australia and spring is on the way and he has started to shed his coat so I have started to brush him which he enjoys .I know he’s spoilt but he is our pet and one of the family.He has to head butt our horse when he is in her paddock which she doesn’t like so she walks away.He sometimes thinks he’s part dog as he plays with the dogs ,that’s another reason for the horns being cut ,but the dogs have realised the scurs still hurt so play from a distance and my parents don’t go near him in case they get hurt. My sons also have good fun with him so over all he is a great addition to the family. Thanks for your helpful information it’s been a great help,cheers June and Billy

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    Aw sounds like such a cutie! If you ever want to send any photos, I’d be happy to share them with fellow Goat Berries readers :)

    [Reply]

  13. 01.09.2012

    I’ve had goats for 15 years….a mix of Boer and dairy including stud goats. Most of my goats weigh over 200 lbs. The studs up to 350 lbs. Have never removed horns and have never had a problem other than youngsters getting stuck in the fence. That problem is resolved with a stick attached across the horns. I have never been headbutted by a goat or even threatened. The horns are very useful for catching a goat and holding that goat to give it medications. I HAVE seen problems develop from people “playing” with young goats such as pushing them on the head, teasing them, etc. causing the goat to learn to headbutt and become a problem/danger. We don’t “play” with our goats, ever. If my young pet goat misbehaves he gets put on a 15 foot cable for an hour or so. He hates that. It’s kind of like a time-out. We do love on them, rub them, and give them treats. If the goats are handled correctly and allowed plenty of space and access to pasture, horns are not a problem. Goats do like their space. They do not like close confinement. Dehorning is cruel and unnecessary in my opinion.

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    Thx for this, Elizabeth! We have our first horned goat in the pen right now, and he’s a sweetheart :)

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  14. Samantha
    01.26.2012

    We have been debating disbudding our goats. We only have two. A Saanen and an Alpine. There seems to be advantages on both ends.
    Well I haven’t been able to get ahold of the woman who was going to disbud them (I just remembered I think she’s on a trip to Africa!) and now I think they are too big anyway so I think they might just be keeping their horns.
    Thank you Elizabeth, your comment makes me feel better about this. :)

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    We’ve had a buck with horns for mating and we’ve had no problems — except that he does like to butt me a bit hahaha ;)

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    Samantha Reply:

    I read that post I think its cute. :) I’m not that worried and I want them to have horns because its natural for them. But people use words like “gore” and its like YEESH! What am I getting myself into?
    Our girls are sweet and we don’t plan on having a whole bunch OR keep a buck so we should be okay. People keep saying “Well what about Maggie?” (My daughter) She’s 1. She’s not going to be unsupervised with the goats until she’s old enough. Commoon sense can prevent a lot of problems I think.

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  15. 05.10.2012

    We have a herd of about 45 goats. A little over half of them have horns, the rest are polled other than 2 does that were purchased disbudded. I have no problems having polled, horned & disbudded goats all together. They all know where they are in the pecking order and seem very content. All of our current bucks are horned, though I’ve owned a few polled bucks over the years and a disbudded buck once. I prefer my bucks to have horns because the horns make great handles to hold on to for deworming & hoof trimming. In the 10 years we’ve been raising goats I’ve had 2 polled goats get their heads stuck in the fence and 1 of the two ended up dying of heat stress. :-( Yes, horned goats can get their heads stuck too, but generally they only get their heads stuck when they have shorter horns around the 9 – 14 month age range, plus I’ve found that it’s usually only 1-2 goats out of the whole group. For those few goats who continue to get their head stuck we simply duct tape a short length of pvc pipe or a wooden dowel stick to their horns which prevents them from sticking their head through. Once their horns grow a little longer their heads won’t fit anymore.

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks so much for this info, Sharon!

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  16. David
    06.05.2012

    I have had goats now for a year and a half. I have two does and a wether. All of which are disbudded. I prefer no horns because I never have to worry about being gored. When I get a buck, however, I am considering just leaving the horns on him because most of the bucks I’ve seen have scurs (because of their high testosterone levels).

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    Thx for your input, David!

    [Reply]

  17. Brian
    05.10.2013

    Hello
    I am new to Goat rasing, I have a little over 1 acre thats chain link fenced. I just want the goats as pets not for milking. What is a good breed to have that is calm? Should I buy them already dehorned or “as is”? I know we have coyotes where I live so I think horns are the way to go, but I am concerned about the chain link fence?? Also I am in the current stage of building the shelter, what is a good measurement of shelter if I am going to start out with just two but end up with four goats? Thank you for your help.
    Waxahachie, Texas.

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    I’m going to post your question at http://facebook.com/GoatBerries, Brian…we’ll see what other goat peeps have to say!

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    Brian, please check out some great responses at https://www.facebook.com/GoatBerries/posts/10151479541362858?comment_id=26111053&offset=0&total_comments=3&notif_t=feed_comment :)

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  18. amber
    05.17.2013

    I have seen to many ooppss I have messed up when disbudding. They can grow back and often when they come back out the goat is all bloody. Polled(naturally hornless) is a genetic fault and you can not usually register a polled goat. If you breed polled goats to each other you arr breeding things in your herd such as hermephodite(goat with both sexes) they often have problems and don’t live passed a few years. My theroy is and I have lamanchas and pygmy goats and unless they are already disbudded when I purchase I don’t do it. Kinda like cropping a dogs ears/tail it is cosmetic only. I have raised my children around horned goats and taken them to fairs/pet party with horns. If God made them with horns then they should stay.

    [Reply]

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for this, Amber!

    [Reply]

  19. 05.18.2013

    We have Nubian Dairy Goats. The two does we bought were dehorned. We were cautioned that we should dehorn our feature goats when they kidded at just 5 days old.
    I hated the idea, but following the advise of oldtimers we burned their heads. It was so horrible I ran out of the barn crying by the end of the first kid. We decided to not do this to our next round of kids. The horns have a purpose. They are heat conductors and help cooling in hot weather. They use them to scratch their backs, defend them selves if need be and play. We used no climb fencing so that they would not get their horns caught and feeders that are safe for horns.
    The goats that were burned have stubs that grow out and repeatedly get knocked off when playing. This is no fun for the goats and they are always waggling their heads towards their back sides to get your attention to scratch their backs. I would never burn my goats horns again and would advise those new to the goat world not to give in to burning. You need to be more careful around feeding time as the horns can get in the way, but if you raise sweet and friendly goats you will have friends for life!

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  20. Jennifer Rewis
    12.10.2013

    I’ve been conflicted about this. We never dehorn our boer goats, and occasionally have one that gets pvc duct taped to their horns to keep them from getting caught in the fence. And we’ve lost a couple to coyotes when they got caught in the fence over night. The large boer bucks have huge horns, but only use them on each other. No one seems to get injured. My dairy goats are a mix of previously disbudded (nubian, saanen, nigerian dwarf), and a few polled. We disbudded our kids last year, and the bucks seem to always get scurs. My dairy goats live in pens that were built for horses (welded pipe and horse wire) so they can’t get stuck in the small gauge wire. It’s expensive, but I think worth it for their protection and I’d use it again if we build more goat enclosures. My saanens have problems with the heat here, so horns would help. Today, I’m NOT planning to disbud the kids next Spring.

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  21. Nancy Baird
    02.20.2014

    Thanks to you all for this information. I have a three month old small Nigerian female goat and have absolutely no experience with goats (dogs and horses till now). She is sweet and respectful with me but tries to butt the Pugs. I think she is starting to hurt them a little and they will not fight back due to their sweet natures. I love this little goat, “Alice” and saw the blood on a horn that just got a little scrape. She is as God made her for a purpose and I could never dehorn her. I’m overwhelmed at how smart she is and am going two try two things; vet wrap on her horns and the “time out”. It seems that you play right into their game if you respond to every time the chew your clothing or get in your face. Will let you know how it goes. I have faith in Alice’s ability to learn.

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  22. Ann
    02.23.2014

    I am fairly new to goats (1 1/2 years). I have Nigerian, Nigora and had 2 Pygora billies. Only two older (over 5) does were disbudded when I got them, the rest have their horns. ALL goats will butt for position at treat time, at the dogs and in play. But they use their foreheads – not the tips of their horns. Occasionally, they will toss their heads and remind the alpacas that walking over them is not a good idea, but even then they are *reminding* not goring.

    I have all kinds of fencing – wire, wood, old wooden cattle stanchions that were designed to catch things and I have never had a goat get caught (even when I was trying!) in a fence. They are pretty smart critters.

    Oh, and want to take a guess who rules the herd?? Yup, the disbudded does. They even ruled over the Pygoras that were twice their size and had quite impressive horns.

    I’m not disbudding my babies, I don’t feel the pain and potential for scurs are worth it especially for a fiber goat that isn’t allowed in a dairy show ring.

    [Reply]


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