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Goat Welfare
Disbudding goats
  1. David Harwood
  1. Honorary Veterinary Surgeon, British Goat Society, AHVLA – Winchester, Itchen Abbas, Winchester, Hampshire SO21 1BX
  1. e-mail: davidvet{at}waitrose.com

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I HAVE recently completed a series of six meetings on goat health and welfare, funded by Defra and organised by ADAS, around England. The meetings were aimed at all goat owners, regardless of the size of their herd or level of experience, and approximately 250 delegates attended in total.

The meetings focused predominantly on goat welfare, using the Animal Welfare Act 2006 ‘welfare needs’ as its theme. One of the issues discussed was mutilations, and in particular disbudding. In the UK, goat disbudding is usually undertaken within the first seven days of life, as horn bud growth can be rapid. The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 requires that the procedure must be undertaken by a veterinary surgeon. It is also recommended that it should be carried out under general anaesthesia. The need to achieve an effective block of four nerves to desensitise the bud (not two as in calves) places a real risk of a toxic local anaesthetic overdose in a high-risk neonatal kid. The skull is also very thin, and, in addition, many conventional calf disbudding irons do not have a large enough head to remove the bud and surrounding germinative soft tissue effectively.

At almost every meeting, we were given a number of examples of problems that had resulted from disbudding attempts by some veterinary surgeons. Reassuringly, however, we were also told of veterinary surgeons who had become skilled in the procedure, and these were mainly those having the opportunity to disbud kids on a regular basis. Problems reported varied from the death of kids under anaesthesia to the most common problem, namely, partial horns and ‘ugly’ spurs regrowing.

There are estimated to be only around 98,000 goats in the UK in total, and it follows that many new graduates may never have had the opportunity to disbud a kid before they leave college. It is a skilled procedure and should be carried out in such a way that any risk to the kid is minimised; also, if undertaken correctly, then horn regrowth should not be a problem. This letter is to remind colleagues of the need to ensure that any veterinary surgeon faced with this task has received the proper training to carry it out professionally.

Colleagues may be aware that in recognition of this issue, the Goat Veterinary Society commissioned a goat disbudding best practice DVD (funded by the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation), which is available only to veterinary surgeons from the society's Honorary Secretary, Nick Clayton, e-mail: nickclayton2{at}mac.com

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