Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday Tool Torturous Treatment Edition

Today's tool is the Portasol disbudding iron.

It works a treat--gets up to temperature faster than electric dehorners, and stays hot.  The only downside, compared to the more common electric dehorners, is that it's a little smaller (not a problem for our Nigerian Dwarves), and you'll need to refill it every six to ten goats.

Most of the time, as the owner of a herd of goats, I'm as nice as can be.  I am generous with the treats, and try to give the goats all of what they need.  There are occasions where they think I'm a little mean, like jabbing them with the occasional needle or trimming their hooves, but really, those insults are no big deal, easily compensated for by a couple of peanuts.

Then there's disbudding.

Most goats have horns, or would, were they not disbudded.  For a goat to be shown in an American Dairy Goat Association sanctioned event, it can't have horns.  For the safety and sanity of the goat's owner, it can't have horns.  And really, for the safety of the goat's herdmates, it can't have horns, and for it's own safety so it doesn't get caught in fences, it can't have horns.

The horn starts as a growth from the skull, and if you were to dissect a mature goat horn, you'd see that it had at its core a projection from the cranial bone, covered with some tissue and then a heavy layer of keratin.  It's a living part of the animal, not like an antler, so removing an adult horn is really amputation.  Thus, it's best to take care of it before it starts growing.

When the kid is born, you can barely feel a little bump where the horn is going to be.  If you wait a week, the bump will be a little button; you want to wait until you can easily feel it, but before the bud breaks the skin.  Your object is to kill that horn bud--all the cells in the skull that will be growing into the horn--without killing the animal.  There are paste dehorners, caustic goops that eat into the skin and bone.  These are OK for cattle, but not so good for goats--they tend to rub them all over, causing random and occasionally severe damage.  Better to use a disbudding iron.

The disbudding iron is a tube-shaped element, usually a little over a cm in diameter.  Sometimes it's heated like a soldering iron, while our disbudder uses lighter fluid.  Once it's up to temperature, you get your goat kid, wrap it in a towel or other restraint, drape it over your leg, hold its head down, and press the hot disbudding iron onto the horn bud for

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ten seconds.

It is agonizing.  The kid doesn't like it, and struggles and cries for all its little body is worth.  You can trim their hair away, but there's still going to be the awful burning flesh smell, not to mention the lovely sizzling sound and sight of burning flesh.  If you don't hold the iron in place for long enough, you'll have to do it again--you need to burn down into the bone a little way, to kill it completely.  If it's a buck kid, you need to do a second burn, because their horn buds are not little dots--they're elongated, like paisleys.  Then, having burned a ring around the bud, you use the side of the iron to char the surface of it off, bubbling and burning down to the bone.

Then, you have to do the kid's other horn.

It's horrible.  I hate doing it.  But, the next step after this for me was to do fourteen more kids. Then, being neighborly, I did eight kids for a neighbor.  It made for a long and horrible-feeling day; I was jittery and jangly and irritable.  It didn't help that I had to get a lamb unstuck from our fence, and just as I was pulling him out and had a hand on each hind leg, he jumped up and pressed himself into the electric wire.  He was fine but it made me dance around.

I'm always worried that I'm going to kill the kids or leave them traumatized or something.  We give them a dose of banamine, a painkiller/anti-inflammatory before, and a cooling spray afterwards, and an hour later they're bouncing around like nothing has happened.  They're all out there now, romping and playing and being goat kids, with these two horrible burn scars on their heads.

Come to think of it, I had an anaesthesia-free operation on a sensitive part of my body when I was a few days old, and I have no memory or lingering horrible feelings from it.  So, hopefully the kids will be alright.

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