The oldest ones are now eating grain and hay! The biggest ones are almost too fat to dance on the milk buckets which has been their favorite pastime at feedings up until now.
Growing means changes to their bodies- natural and forced. Last week Brit told me it was time to start disbudding the babies. Disbudding is done to remove the goat's horns before they develop into larger horns with mature circulatory and nervous tissue, and I was not looking forward to it. In doing research about disbudding, almost every source refers to it as one of the least favorite parts of goat farming for compassionate caretakers.
The majority of goat farmers do disbud their goats because the horns can be dangerous to other goats, people, and an appendage that often gets caught in fences. Brit has had the misfortune of having to cut off horns when a goat has gotten them stuck and says it's an extreme and painful process to do so on mature horns with arteries and nerve endings. Therefore, most farmers see it as a smart preventative measure to stop the horn's growth before they become a liability. And if done when they are a couple weeks old, quick and relatively painless.
The process of disbudding involves securing the baby goat in a specially made box with its head poking out and using a specially designed hot iron to burn the horn bud area and stunt further growth. This is also a good time to do ear tattoos on the goat so they can be identified and documented for your records. The use of a hot iron is similar to what ranchers do with cows for branding and is extremely effective. It also seems more humane than the other alternative for disbudding which requires the use of a caustic acid you must apply topically to the baby goat's head.
We use two types of hot irons, a larger one and a smaller one. The larger one is used first to burn a hole around the horn. You want to see a bright copper ring. Next, a smaller iron is applied to burn closer to and on the horn. At this point you can then scrape off the tiny formed bud to expose the baby bud tissue beneath. We use the iron again to scar the top of the bud and prevent any bleeding. After that the baby is released and goes back in the pen.
Brit disbudding Suri.
I'm not going to lie- I was shocked when I saw my first baby- my baby!- disbudded. I love these goats and do everything I can to keep them from any kind of pain- hunger, cold, sickness. I couldn't bear the idea of pushing a hot iron onto their tiny heads. Not to my Suri! And they let you know they don't like it. The hardest part for me is watching them struggle and the sound of their tiny hooves scraping against the box and their high pitched bleets. The smell is not pleasant either. The barn is filled with a burning hair smell that embeds itself into your clothes, burns your nose, and stings your eyes. You carry it around with you all day.
I've never really understood the principles of veganism when it comes to abstaining from local and humanely produced cheese, eggs and honey, but after watching the baby goats cry at the touch of the hot iron I can understand their concerns. On the other hand, this routine procedure is saving them from potential injuries down the road, takes less than a minute to perform, and has no lasting negative effects on the baby. Literally, five seconds after taking them out of the box, the babies were happily running around again as if nothing happened- their funny new haircuts the only sign something was different.
Suri after being disbudded, happy again.
Here is a good article on the subject that outlines some of the pros and cons of the procedure. And you can see a good tutorial on how to disbud goat horns here. However, I'd hope that anyone doing this would learn from an experienced farmer before working with their own herd.
I have faith in the fact that the owners of Celebrity Dairy have been doing this for over 20 years and love their goats more than anyone. Brit told me, "We didn't much like this either when we started doing it, but after seeing what damage goats can do with their horns to each other and themselves, we found it necessary." In fact, as I did more research I found that disbudding really is the standard for goat farmers in the U.S. I'm not sure about practices in Europe, but I'd like to find out.
This Monday, Brit trusted me to finish up the babies on my own. I knew that this was part of being a goat farmer and that I just had to do it. I was confident and worked quickly and strongly to minimize the time each kid had to spend under the iron without compromising the work. If you do a rushed and poor job, goats are at risk of developing spurs on their horns that will have to be removed later, so you want to be thorough.
It wasn't as bad as I had remembered or feared. Each baby had a unique reaction to it- - some cried, others didn't make a sound and seemed fairly blase about the whole thing. A few fiesty ones looked at me and bleeted angrily- I admired their fighting spirit and willingness to voice their displeasure with me. All, though, went back to their pens and showed no signs of continued suffering or pain. I petted them as much as I could before, during, and after to show them comfort and filled up some buckets with fresh milk after it was all over to give them an added treat. During the process I wound up burning myself- a huge surprise, I'm sure, for anyone that knows me and my klutzy coordination. My skin is still red and aches. It was a good exercise in a continued effort to understand what compassionate care might look like on a dairy.