According to Genesis 1:26, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth (King James Bible).” The United States, being founded on Christian ideals, has shown to have taken the biblical directive of dominion over all to heart by consuming 20% of the world’s resources despite making up only 5% of world’s population. Additionally, this concept has created a worldview that has reduced many of the farm livestock and the pets in the US to dollars signs in the pasture, and ornaments in the apartment.
The reality is that when one views their livestock or pets as an object that they own, and not as a sentient being that also provides service for the human beings, it completely changes the dynamics of that relationship. For many Americans farmers, any kind of sacrifice, or inconvenience brought on from the animal’s anatomy (e.g. horns, claws, etc.) is often too difficult to learn to work with. Rather, the American farmer’s most preferred management style is to maim or strike fear into the animal for the sake of convenience (or because that is how it has always been done). The focus of this article will be on the prevalent practice of disbudding goats in the United States.
The process of disbudding a goat is an extremely painful procedure. A 1000º iron is pressed against the top of the skull of a baby goat (typically less than two weeks old), leaving large wounds in the place of the horns. In the best case scenario the animal screams, goes into shock, and is scarred for life. However, it is not uncommon for the animal to run a temperature for several days, and can become lethargic accompanied with depression. The eyes can also be affected if the heated iron touches soft tissue, causing blindness or a disfiguring of the face. Unfortunately, some animals experience personality changes and even stunted growth after disbudding.
The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) currently does not allow dairy goats to be shown if they have horns.* It seems odd that a surgically altered goat would be deemed the breed standard. The official response from the ADGA is, “for the safety of other animals, as well as exhibitors, horned animals are not allowed at ADGA sanctioned shows.” This is the most common justification for disbudding. Having a goat with horns is just far too dangerous to have around humans or other goats. Horns do have the potential to be dangerous, but the danger is an exception and not the norm when the proper precautions are taken to ensure everyone’s safety around the animals.**
At Blue Rock Rock Station, the philosophy of livestock management focuses on ‘peaceagree’ (i.e. the ability to get along with the herd) rather than pedigree. Annie Warmke has been a goat herder off and on since she was 19 years old. She says that, “goats will ram with or without horns; it is part of who they are, but their horns are an important part of natural health for these livestock. They provide protection when giving and receiving blows. Constant maliciously intended rams to a goat’s side or udder could seriously injure it, but that goes back to ‘peaceagree’. The question we ask ourselves with any animal in our herd is, ‘Would I want a person with that attitude living with me in my home?’ and the answer to that question should help a farmer decide whether an unruly goat living amongst the herd is worth the risk.”
It is, of course, the job of the farmer to teach their livestock that it is not okay to ram humans. With or without horns, the farmer must always be aware of where their bodies are in relation to the goat’s head. Additionally, it is imperative that the farmer be attentive to places where a goat could potentially get its horns stuck (e.g. housing, fencing, etc.). Likewise, it does not mean that it is time to disbud if the farmer is unable to do their job adequately. It means that it is time for the farmer to reevaluate whether or not they should continue having a partnership with goats.
Horns provide great utility to the goats. Goats scratching themselves in hard to reach places while the disbudded ones are forced to rub up against fences, fence posts, buildings, trees, humans, large rocks, doors, etc. They are also handy when browsing for food. More importantly, the horns are chocked full of blood vessels that help to regulate the goat’s temperature.*** Losing horns is akin to a human losing the ability to sweat. It seems unkind to do this to an animal that spends most of its life outdoors.
The goat is the most widely domesticated livestock in the world, and in most countries the goats get to keep their horns. However, in the United States (i.e. cattle country) the inhumane practice of disbudding has been normalized; all in the name of safety. But life on a farm is full of potential hazards, many of which are exclusive to certain animals (e.g. horses’ hind legs, dogs’ teeth, cats’ claws, etc.). Part of being a farmer is learning to mitigate these hazards in a way that promote health in addition to prosperity to the land. This is a situation in which bending nature to human will is causing unnecessary suffering to sentient beings. It is not the goat’s horns that are truly dangerous, but human’s lack of desire to learn from these beautiful animals.