Glimmercroft - Disbudding Solo

Laura Workman, Glimmercroft, Lynnwood, Washington

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The goal with disbudding is to do the job right the first time, and that means doing it early, with a good, hot iron.  Even so, especially with bucklings, itís difficult to avoid scurs.  This does depend somewhat on the breed.  Nigerian Dwarf goats, oddly, seem the hardest to disbud, with the most persistent horns. The mini goats, being part Nigerian, come in next, then the rest of the standards.  I think the standard dairy goats are easiest, not because I've disbudded a lot of standard dairy goats, but because most of the standard dairy goat breeders seem to think the "copper ring" is adequate.  It definitely is NOT adequate for mini goats and Nigerians. 

The best time to disbud is as soon as you can tell where the horns will be.  However, I like to give kids a chance to recover from the birthing process, so I do not disbud earlier than 3 days of age.  The longer you wait to disbud, the bigger the horn buds are, and the harder the disbudding is on the kids.  None of the kids that I have done at a younger age have had any trouble with their burns at all.  Click here if you want to read a somewhat graphic anecdote about a late disbudding. 

A word about Tetanus.  Even a clean, dry disbudding injury can be provide an entrance to Tetanus.  The injury will itch, and the kid will try to scratch it using his hoof, which has naturally been stomping about in the dirt where Tetanus lives.  If he breaks the burn seal with his hoof at any time, even the tiniest bit, the Tetanus can get in.  I used to avoid vaccinations due to safety issues and because I didn't like lumps left by vaccines.  I've had two cases of Tetanus in the past three years (both were doelings), one resulting in weeks of intensive nursing care before the kid recovered, and the second resulting in death, and I've changed my views on this particular vaccine.  In case your does were not vaccinated a month before kidding, using Tetanus antitoxin when you disbud your kids will provide protection for them them while the burn is healing.  Hint:  if you massage the injection area after a vaccination until the lump disappears, the chances of a lasting knot are greatly decreased. 

So, this is how I take care of disbudding without a helper. 

Supplies & equipment:

** Clippers or scissors
** Disbudding iron - I have a Rhinehart X30.  I had an X40, which is supposedly a bigger iron, but the X30 iron is made specifically for goats and small calves, while the larger Rhineharts are made specifically for calves, with a special tip for goats.  It seems as though the tip attachment disburses the heat a bit, so the X30 actually gets hotter.  A hotter iron means a shorter burn time.  Hotter is also better because you destroy the target tissue before the heat has a chance to make its way deeper and do more damage.  With my "more powerful" iron, I had to burn 8 seconds, twice on each side, with a bit more for clean up.  With the X30, nicely glowing dark red (really!), it's four or five seconds, twice on each side, with a very little bit more for clean up.  So there's my unequivocal recommendation - Buy the Rhinehart X30.
** Wire brush for cleaning the iron between burns
** Cooling antiseptic spray
** Bath towel and dish or hand towel

Steps to disbudding - Please read all the way through before you begin!

Note:  If at any time during this process the kid seems overly stressed and panting, you may want to just stop and let him up for a minute or so.  This doesn't happen often, but there's no sense in toying with shock if it can be avoided.

1.  Plug in iron.  It should heat up until it glows dark red. If your iron doesn't glow dark red, get a different iron.  (You may have to be out of bright sunlight to see the glow, but I can plainly see it in my well-lit garage.)

2.  Clip the hair around horn bud so you have a clear, one-inch diameter circle around each bud. 

3.  Fold bath towel to make a comfortable place for your knees and the kid.  Fold dish towel in quarters lengthwise, giving a strip around 4 inches wide and 2 feet long. 

4.  Kneel down, tucking kid between your legs, folding its legs underneath its body so it is laying comfortably.  Sit down so the kid canít get up, resting your weight on your heels, not on the kid.  Twist one foot inward behind the kid, so the kid canít back out from underneath you.  Lay the kidís head down flat and place the dish towel over its neck, kneeling on both ends of the dish towel.  Tighten up the dish towel until the kid's head is held flat to the floor.  

5.  Glove your left hand, and hold the kidís head still, holding the ears out of the way.  Even small ears can get singed. 

6.  Apply the iron, centered over the horn bud but slightly forward and toward the center line, since most scurs come from leftover horn tissue at the front of the burned area toward the center of the forehead.   Try to keep as even contact with the tip as possible, meaning donít tilt the tip.  Keeping the entire circle of the tip of the iron in contact with the head, rotate the tip of the iron slowly counterclockwise and clockwise a little bit.   This helps to get a nice, even burn.   Youíre not drilling for gold here, but you are trying to burn through flesh, so let that be a guide for the pressure you use.  It doesnít take much. 

7.  Hold the iron on the head, rotating slowly, for four or five seconds.  Practice counting ahead of time until you can do it pretty accurately.  NEVER keep the iron in contact with the head for more than four or five seconds.  If the kid is looking overly stressed, just stop for a few seconds until he's looking better.

8.  Take the iron off the head, and blow gently on the head to cool it for a few seconds.   Now burn the other side.   At this point, you should have nice copper rings, with maybe a little glistening white showing through a ďsplitĒ in the copper colored area.  This white is your goal. 

9.  After you've burned both sides once, reburn the first side, the same way as the first time, but youíre trying to get a glistening ring of cartilage showing all the way around the horn bud.  Rest a few seconds, blowing gently on the kidís head, then repeat on the second side. 

10.  After two burns, you'll probably be close to having a white ring all the way around the hornbud.  Place the iron back on the head and rotate for a couple of seconds.  If you pay close attention, you can feel the change in texture as the iron contacts cartilage all the way around the burn.  Then tip the iron a bit so you can use the edge to ďflipĒ the burnt horn bud tissue off the head.  It should look like a little burnt cap, and should come off leaving a solid area showing cartilage.  If there is bleeding, use the edge of the iron lightly to cauterize any bleeding or pinkish areas.  Repeat on the second side. 

11a.  Now place the forward and inside edge of the iron just inside the forward, inside edge of the burn, contacting the cartilage. Using enough pressure to keep the iron on the cartilage, push forward and inside.  The goal is to shove the tissue maybe a 32nd to a 16th of an inch forward and inside, burning it as you go.  Repeat on the other side.  This helps ensure that you won't get scurs.

11b.  If the kid is a buckling and will remain a buck, he is going to be more challenging because of the extra hormones, which will cause more persistent horn growth and a larger horn base.  For these kids, I skip step 11a above, and do an additional burn instead.  For this additional burn, I use the forward edge of the iron, trying to avoid as much as possible contact with the already burnt area.  So, placing the forward edge of the iron forward and slightly to the inside of the last burn by about a quarter inch, repeat the burn sequence.  You wind up with what looks a little like a figure 8, but with a really fat join at the middle.  This second burn usually only takes one, five-second burn with the "flip" at the end.  I "flip" toward the already burned part because the partial cap comes off easiest that way. 

11c.  Once you're finished with the main burn, touch the edge of the iron very briefly to any white, glistening cartilage to singe it.  I usually make six or seven singes per burn. 

Yeah!!! Youíve finished with the burning part! (Itís the worst part about owning goats, in my opinion!)

12.  Now, guarding the kidís eyes with your hand, spray a cooling antiseptic onto each burned area.  (I currently use Alumashield or Lanacane spray.)  This will help to rapidly cool the area, and Lanacane will help to numb the area.  Youíre finished!

Incidentally, if your disbudding iron tip does not show a fairly wide, flat surface, you can smooth it down with a sanding block.  The wide, flat surface of the ring is important for conducting heat quickly. 

Graphic story follows!

I waited 2 weeks with one batch of kids recently, and will try hard to avoid that mistake in the future.  Since these were bigger kids, I had to use my larger iron, a Dual Dehorner available from Caprine Supply.  The kids did all right.  However, they did each scratch at their burns about a week after disbudding, opening up the wound and bleeding a bit.  One kid evidently hit a blood vessel while scratching and bled a lot.  He lost so much blood, he was wobbly and had no interest in nursing.  I drenched him with milk and a little corn syrup to get his energy level back up to where he would nurse, and he pulled through, but I think I came close to losing him. 

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This page updated May 13, 2015.

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