Why Are My Goats Horns Cracked
Horns have a full bone core and are covered in keratin, the same substance that makes up human fingernails. Horns usually have a curved or spiral shape with ridges. They start to grow soon after the animal is born and grow across the animal’s whole lifetime. If they are damaged or removed, they do not re-grow.
It will remain that way forever. It does not grow back. Horns are permanent; they are not shed, but grow with the animal throughout its lifespan. Goats horns come in all shapes and sizes depending upon the breed. Animals use their horns to defend against predators. If an animal’s horn is broken or damaged, it remains that way.
Males and females can both have horns though it is more usual for males. The theory is that larger species living in the open, like large herbivores in the savannah, are more visible to predators. Therefore, both males and females both usually have horns to defend themselves. Horns typically grow in symmetrical pairs.
Usually, animals only have one set of horns but there are some interesting sheep breeds that possess multiple sets of horns, such as the Hebridean, Islandic, and Navajo-Churro breeds. Animals use horns primarily for defending themselves from predators, and even fighting members of their own species for territory, dominance, or a mate.
They can also be used for functional purposes, such as digging in the soil or stripping bark from trees. Horns might even work as a cooling system for animals, with the blood vessels in the bony core of the horn letting off heat.
Managing Broken Horn in Goats
When a goat damages one of its horns, it can be a very painful experience. There are a blood vessel and a nerve that extends up into each horn, so depending on the extent of the injury, there can be a lot of bleeding.
A wound that is not life-threatening can still produce what looks like a large amount of blood, so the injury might not be as bad as you think. Prompt first aid should give, however, just as with any other injury. Baby aspirin can be given to the goat for pain relief.
1) Minor Goat Horn Breakage
If the horn has a broken tip that isn’t bleeding or is bleeding very little, then the injury isn’t deep enough to require serious first aid. Snip off the broken tip if it is still attached and snip off any jagged edges. Apply a blood-stop powder to stifle the minor bleeding (such powders are available at most pet and farm-supply stores). You may wrap the end of the horn if it is warranted to keep the tip clean while it heals.
2) Moderate Goat Horn Injury
Bleeding will occur if the horn is broken down far enough to open the large blood vessel inside. Treat it as any other open wound. Apply pressure to the stump of the horn to control bleeding. Once the bleeding is under control, apply a blood stop powder to encourage clotting, and then wrap the horn with a bandage.
3) Severe Injury
Find the pressure point below the inside corner of the goat’s eye if direct pressure does not stop the bleeding from the broken horn. Move your finger around a bit in the area to feel for this blood vessel. Push on the pressure point for five minutes while holding direct pressure on the horn stump.
Gently release the pressure on the pressure point after five minutes and check the bleeding. Reapply pressure again if blood flow has not ceased. Once the bleeding is under control, apply a blood-stop powder to encourage clotting, and then wrap the horn with a bandage.
A red-hot piece of iron or a disbudding iron (a tool used to de-horn young animals) can be used to cauterize the wound if the bleeding is severe and does not respond to other control methods. Get a helper to assist by holding the goat, or put the goat into a stanchion to hold it still while you apply the iron to cauterize the wound.
Apply the iron firmly and decisively. Hold it on the wound for a second or two at a time. You want to close the wound, but not burn healthy tissue.
Do not apply cream or other first-aid remedies to the cauterized area.
Peeling Horns in Goat
Goats often experience flaky, peeling horns. This condition is not normally due to a serious underlying medical condition, but it can be unnerving for goat owners. Left untreated, peeling horns can become uncomfortable to goats and in some cases might result in infection and injury. If your goat’s horns have suddenly begun peeling,
consult your veterinarian to determine the precise cause.
Goat Horn Mineral Deficiencies
Goats require certain vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and salt, to maintain healthy horns. If you don’t give your goat a mineral lick or mineral supplement, its peeling horns may be caused by a deficiency.
Give her a high-quality, daily mineral supplement. Goats that eat alfalfa hay should have 1-to-1 calcium to phosphorous ratio in their supplements, while goats that eat grass hay require 2-to-1 calcium to phosphorous ratio.
Horns are composed of a core of bone covered in proteins including keratin. A protein deficiency can cause the protein-rich bone coverings to begin to flake and thin.
Alfalfa is among the best sources of protein for goats, so ensure this is a part of your goat’s diet.
Horn New Growth
Goats’ horns often peel when they are growing, especially around the ends of the horns. Kids are especially susceptible to peeling horns as they enter growth spurts. If the peeling is mild and does not get worse over several months, it’s not a cause for concern.
Goat Head Butting Play / Fighting / Protection
Goat horns serve many purposes. They are an attractive decoration and a deterrent to potential rivals and predators. Goats also use their horns during playful head butting and serious fights. If all of your goats have peeling horns, it may be due to excessive head butting. Monitor them carefully to ensure they are not fighting and that larger goats aren’t bullying smaller goats.
Disbudding and Dehorning in Goats
Dehorning is not necessary for sheep – choose hornless breeds. Horned goats will not pose problems in well-designed facilities and horns are important for grooming and social communication. Research has shown that horned does are no more aggressive than non-horned does. Aggression is only a factor if available space is less than 2 m 2/doe.
Disbudding is the only option for horn removal in goats (naturally polled goats have limited fertility), and must only be performed by a veterinarian or trained personnel.
Disbudding should be carried out only if kids are healthy, thriving, and are between 2-30 days old (for European breeds: 2-7 days for males, 3-10 days females; Nubians have no buds until 30 days) using adequate pain control. Disbudding irons are preferred to caustic paste, which would require removal of the dam to prevent the transfer of paste to the udder. Allow sufficient time between kids to ensure maximum heating and only apply for 5- 10 sec.
Pain control should be used during all disbudding and dehorning procedures. When hot-iron disbudding, local anesthetics administered through a corneal nerve block or a ring block around the horn bud have the potential to reduce the immediate pain responses but they do not provide adequate post-operative pain control.
Therefore, local anesthetics alone will not suffice. The use of sedatives, local anesthetics, and systemic analgesics in combination is recommended. The following pain control is recommended for hot-iron disbudding:
Sedative – with the use of a sedative, such as xylazine, (administered approximately 20 min before disbudding), the calf’s response to physical restraint, and the administration of local anesthetics during disbudding should be reduced.
Local anesthetics, – administration of a local anesthetic, such as lidocaine, should be done prior to disbudding and should follow the manufacturer’s recommended drug onset time. To test that the area is numb prior to disbudding, prick the skin to see if the animal can feel anything around the horn bud or base of the horn.
Postoperative analgesia – a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, such as ketoprofen, should be administered to control post-operative pain. Ideally, the animal should be given pain control for at least 24 hr. after dehorning. The duration of effectiveness will depend on the drug used.
Consult with your veterinarian for the most appropriate procedures and drugs to use, given the circumstances of your farm. Some organic farmers also use the homeopathic remedy Arnica or “Rescue Remedy” for pain control although research has not confirmed its efficacy.
Research has shown that in the case of disbudding with caustic paste, the use of a local anesthetic nerve block did not reduce the observed pain-related behaviors and may in fact increase discomfort, possibly due to the mode of action of the anesthetic
. Until more research is conducted in this area, the following pain control is recommended for caustic paste disbudding:
- Sedative – administer a sedative, such as xylazine, approximately 20 min before disbudding.
- Postoperative analgesia – see recommendations under hot-iron disbudding.
Since dehorning adult cattle should only be performed by a veterinarian, all pain management protocols should be under the advisement of the attending veterinarian.
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Goat Breeder Associations
|American Goat Breeders Association||United States||AGF|
|English Goat Breeders Association||UK||EGBA|
|Canadian Meat Goat Association||Canada||CMG|
|Minature Goat Breeders Association||Australia||MGBA|
|Boer Goats||South Africa||BGSA|
|American Boer Goat Association||United States||ABGA|
|World Goat Breeders Associations||List||WGBA|