The ethics of goat disbudding

I recently became inspired by the work of PhD Student: Katrina Rosenberger who provided an incredible insight into the background of goat disbudding, with the justification that goats should not be treated like calves.

I’ll link the paper here, be sure to check it out:

Before I begin, I should probably touch upon what exactly disbudding is.

In simple terms: Disbudding is the process of surgically removing a goats’ horns when they reach 2 weeks of age. It is not recommended to perform the procedure after the goat reaches a one-month old milestone given the health risks and complications associated with doing so.

The main reasons for disbudding include injury. Goats with horns have been known to cause injuries to other animals and goats within the herd. The injuries can often be fatal. Moreover, injuries have also been subject to humans as a result of coming into contact with the horns.

Disbudding hasn’t been recognised to modify the behaviour of goats and has been described (Ajuda et al) as a procedure that affects the welfare of the kids.

In addition, some goat owners/breeders choose to disbud as a novelty factor with the justification lying in the fact that they prefer the look of goats without horns. Similar to the way we over bred for brachycephalic breeds and gained additional health consequences as a result. Including breathing difficulties and infections caused as a result of bacteria forming in the animal‘s skin folds.

Disbudding is a common practice amongst goats. However, cashmere and angora goats are breeds that are never disbudded. 

But, are goats horns important?

Yes- Goats horns enable them to regulate heat, which is hugely important in warmer countries. When goats are disbudded, they are then forced to retain heat through panting behaviours. The horns also act as a mechanism towards play and predatory defense. Although large and often sharp, they do serve the goats increasingly well and support their survival in the wild. Goats have been known to regrow their horns after disbudding (occasionally) and these are called spurs.

Basics of goat horns and how to handle them | AGDAILY

Goats horns also assist them in establishing dominance within a herd’s hierarchy.

Although the horns are important, they are also prone to causing injuries.

What does disbudding include?

“Disbudding involves cautery of the horn buds with hot irons after cutting the tip off the horn bud if these are well developed.”-British Veterinary Association.

Disbudding is an invasive procedure, described as a mutilation under the Law in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, that should only be performed by a specialised vet.

To supplement this, disbudding is described as a controversial topic due to the pain it inflicts upon the animals involved.

The procedure includes holding a hot iron to the horns in an attempt to burn them off. It takes approximately 3 minutes to numb, following the administration of local anaesthetic. If the iron is held for too long, it could result in Brain damage.

Check out the following paper:


Disbudding is considered to be a veterinary surgery under the provision of Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (amended in 1982).

In conclusion, it appears that the process of disbudding comes with a series of costs and benefits. A definite starting point for an interesting ethical discussion.

While goats are becoming increasingly popular as a study species within science, it’s becoming thought that we should consider the animalswelfare before jumping to a decision to perform such a procedure.




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