Disbudding of goat kids


Ratification Date: 08 Dec 2022


Disbudding of goats is a painful procedure that should be performed in kids under 2 weeks of age by an appropriately skilled veterinarian using heavy sedation/anaesthesia and analgesia.

Thermal cautery disbudding is the only method which should be used.

Where thermal cautery is performed by a lay operator, the procedure must be performed by a competent person using appropriate restraint and pain relief.

State and territory animal welfare legislation within Australia should prohibit the disbudding of goat kids over 2 weeks of age, and mandate the use of effective analgesia.


Disbudding is the removal of the horn bud before it attaches to the skull. Developing horn tissue will attach to the skull at approximately 3 weeks of age. Disbudding of goats less than 2 weeks of age, ideally under 10 days of age, ensures that there is no horn attachment when the procedure is performed. Due to the thin cranium of neonatal goats, there is a significant risk of thermal brain injuries if disbudding is performed by an inexperienced operator.

Disbudding is necessary to improve goat welfare and ensure human safety in certain situations including in commercial goat dairies where goats are in close proximity during the milking process and where goats may be in contact with young children.

Several methods have been used for disbudding in goat kids including thermal cautery, application of caustic paste, injecting clove oil and liquid nitrogen cryosurgery. Thermal cautery is the only effective method for disbudding in goat kids. Liquid nitrogen cryosurgery has been shown to be ineffective for disbudding in kids.1

Unlike other ruminant species, local anaesthesia alone via cornual nerve desensitisation does not reduce the behavioural responses and cortisol increase after thermal cautery in kids.2 Goat kids are particularly susceptible to lignocaine toxicity3  if lignocaine is used without care, as the toxic dose of 10mg/kg equates to only 2ml of 2% lignocaine in the average 4kg kid.4 Topical lignocaine cream applied 60 minutes prior to disbudding has been shown to be ineffective.5

Given the minimal efficacy of local anaesthesia, ideally thermal cautery should be performed by a veterinarian with the kid under heavy sedation or anaesthesia. Whilst this is often possible in larger commercial operations, there are some significant challenges for smaller producers including cost of the procedure for small numbers of animals, and lack of availability of suitably trained veterinarians.

In the United Kingdom, where disbudding must be performed by a veterinarian under anaesthesia, some dairy goat farms have ceased disbudding kids.  This has resulted in some serious injuries when does are crowded into milking parlours.


All kids undergoing disbudding must be provided analgesia. If the procedure is not performed by a veterinarian, then the operator should obtain appropriate analgesia and instructions for effective use from a registered veterinarian with whom there is an established bona-fide veterinary-client-patient-relationship.

There are currently no registered pain relief options for use in goats. Products that have been used by veterinarians include Tri-Solfen® (a topical preparation containing local anaesthetics and adrenaline), injectable and oral meloxicam. Injectable meloxicam at 0.5mg/kg has been shown to reduce pain for 24hr post disbudding.3,6  There have been no studies examining the efficacy of Tri-Solfen® for pain relief in goat disbudding. These products can be supplied off label to goat owners by veterinarians who have a demonstrated bona-fide veterinary-client-patient-relationship.

The Australian Veterinary Association should encourage and promote further education to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of suitably trained veterinarians who are capable of correctly performing goat disbudding. A clinician-focused review article was published in 2019 and would serve as a useful reference for veterinarians performing the procedure.7

Extension of registration of the available sheep anaesthetic and analgesic products to include goats is encouraged, once work to determine suitable dose rates, safe residue limits and withholding periods is complete.

While the poll gene exists in many goat breeds, it is not possible to establish a polled goat breed as is the case with sheep and cattle. This is because the dominant poll gene is associated with a recessive effect for intersex, with incomplete penetrance.8,9  In addition, research has shown that poll to poll matings result in fewer female and more male kids, even if all the intersex kids are counted as females.10  In the dairy goat industry, females are highly desired, but most males have only meat value.

Other relevant policies

Use of analgesia for routine husbandry procedures


  1. Sutherland, M., F. Huddart and M. Hempstead (2019). Pain relief and novel methods for disbudding calves and goat kids. Science week Goodwin. Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia NAZCVS. Animal Welfare and Pharmacology Chapters 7-8.
  2. Hempstead, M. N., et al. (2020). "Acute cortisol and behavior of dairy goat kids administered local anesthesia, topical anesthesia or systemic analgesia prior to cautery disbudding." Physiology & Behavior 222: 112942.
  3. Venkatachalam, D., P. Chambers, K. Kongara and P. Singh (2018). "Toxicity and Pharmacokinetic Studies of Lidocaine and Its Active Metabolite, Monoethylglycinexylidide, in Goat Kids." Animals : an open access journal from MDPI 8(8): 142.
  4. Matthews, J. (2016). Diseases of the Goat
  5. Hempstead, M. N., T. M. Lindquist, J. K. Shearer, L. C. Shearer, M. A. Sutherland and P. J. Plummer (2020). "Acute cortisol and behavior of dairy goat kids administered local anesthesia, topical anesthesia or systemic analgesia prior to cautery disbudding." Physiology & Behavior 222: 112942.
  6. Hempstead, M. N., J. R. Waas, M. Stewart, V. M. Cave and M. A. Sutherland (2020). "Can Isoflurane and Meloxicam Mitigate Pain Associated with Cautery Disbudding of 3-Week-Old Goat Kids?" Animals 10(5).
  7. Matthews, J. and B. Dunstan (2019). “Disbudding of goat kids.” In Practice 41(9):433-444.
  9. Baxendell, S. A. (1984). Breeding Problems. Refresher Course for Veterinarians o. Q. Post-Graduate Committee in Veterinary Science. Sydney Post-Graduate Committee in Veterinary Science, University of Queensland 73: 355-362.
  10. Soller, M. and H. Angel (1964). "POLLNESS AND ABNORMAL SEX RATIOS IN SAANEN GOATS." Journal of Heredity 55: 139-142.