Goat kids are not small calves

by AgResearch post-doctoral scientist Melissa Hempstead

When it comes to management of dairy goats, and specifically disbudding, it is important to keep front of mind the distinction between goat kids and calves. 

Disbudding is a common management practice used by the dairy industry (goats and cattle) to prevent horn growth, but it inevitably causes pain for the animal. The challenge is that there is limited evidenced-based information available for developing best practice guidelines for the management of dairy goats, particularly goat kids.

Although there may be certain similarities in how goat kids and calves respond to cautery disbudding, it is important to highlight the differences that do exist between the species to reduce the risk of potential detrimental effects such as brain injury.

Cautery disbudding is the most common and effective method of disbudding kids and calves. However, kids have thinner skulls and are disbudded at a younger age, which can increase the risk of injury to the brain.

Kids and calves show behavioural and physiological responses indicative of pain. However, variability in these responses between studies are likely due to differences in disbudding methods, and natural variation between animals.

Effective pain relief options likely differ across species. Therefore, future research is needed to optimise pain relief options for kids. 

Currently, alternatives to cautery disbudding including selection for polled (naturally hornless) animals; managing horned animals; or the development of novel disbudding methods (e.g. cryosurgery, clove oil injection) have been deemed unsuitable by the industries as these methods are either impractical or ineffective.

Therefore, if disbudding is to continue, species-appropriate pain relief options need to be refined. Establishing best practice guidelines for disbudding kids will require managers to recognise that goat kids are not small calves.

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