Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Scurs - Why I Dislike Them

Yesterday was a typical day...get dressed to go to town to do shopping before goat kids decide to start arriving this week, put coveralls on over "good" jeans and set about to band scurs on my buck, Phantom.  Well at least that is my typical day.

A word of warning, this post gets a bit graphic so be forewarned.  If you like cute pictures, look at this picture of Phantom as a young fellow before he started to grow his scur.  Don't look at the rest.

Most goats are genetically programmed to have horns.  Horns in dairy breeds are not welcomed by most folks so the young kids are disbudded.  For goats that are handled several times daily, horns are just an invitation to an injury to humans, other goats, and to themselves.  An inadvertent poke by a horn is painful and can cause bruising.  An intentional butting can break bones.  Horned goats have been known to cause serious injury to their fellow goats' udders and there are often incidences of a goat getting its horns caught in fencing with often fatal outcomes.

When a kid is about a week or two old, the horn buds begin to appear under the skin on the top of the head.  They feel like a hard pimple but a bit larger.  To prevent further growth, the horn bud is cauterized with a hot disbudding iron which kills the blood supply to the horn. Generally this works well for does (females) and wethers (neutered boys).  In bucks (intact males) it is often difficult to accomplish well.  Hormones that kick as the buck "comes of age" stimulate horn growth and if disbudding wasn't done extremely well, they grow scurs. Horns are securely attached to the skull and have a blood supply in the horn.  They grow much like a dog's toenails. Scurs on the other hand are hollow, incompletely developed horns that generally are loose and not attached to the skull and can be wiggled if you can manage to actually grab one. Believe me when I tell you that they also have a blood supply (this is a hint of what is to come). It just isn't as extensive as in a horn.

As you may have guessed by now I have scur issue.  I have a 2 year-old buck I purchased when he was a few months old that is determined to grow a scur on one side.  Mostly scurs are unsightly but scurs can be bad because they have a tendency to grow in a deformed way and often curve in toward the head.  One way to deal with scur growth is to band the scur.  I won't go into details but it involves placing a special rubber band around the base of the scur which cuts off the blood supply allowing it to eventually to fall off.

I had banded this buck's scur last winter when it was a couple of inches long.  It soon fell off but it started growing back last summer.  It started curving downward toward his eye and was eventually going to make contact with his head.  Not a good situation so I set out to band it again.  Only this time instead dealing with a pint-sized young fellow, I was dealing with a larger and stronger pint-sized mature buck.  My husband was skeptical.  I was determined I had to do something soon.

Yesterday morning I grabbed my scur-removal kit with my eslastrator and bands, some duct tape to help hold the bands on, a syringe loaded with a Tetanus booster shot, my husband, a camera, and then headed off to the back field to the buck barn.  Earlier, I had managed to file notches at the base of the horn to hold the bands in place.

To control  Phantom so that I could work on his head, I straddled him and locked him between my knees. Control might be a relative term here since he was still able to do a good bit of thrashing around. I gave him his Tetanus shot relatively easily.  Just as I was ready to apply the band, Phantom lurched and banged his head into the board fence sending the scur flying.  Problem solved, well except for the blood which was gushing from his head and starting to drip off his beard.

I always keep a container of blood-stop powder in both barns for emergencies.  This was beginning to look like an emergency.  I kept hold of Phantom and applied powder to his head.  By now I was speckled with blood as well.  After a few minutes the blood flow slowed and I let him go thinking that his struggling was only making the blood pump harder.

His head was caked with blood and powder and he looked AWFUL but he seemed okay.  He has a bloody stump of horn  which will probably regrow this coming year.

Some people don't agree with disbudding and prefer to leave the horns on goats.  With bucks it is kind of a no-win situation.  Horned males generally know how to use their horns and can become intimidating if not dangerous during breeding season.  I know this because I had a horned buck and although he was "tame" he rammed me into the gate trying to get to a doe that was penned near him.  Attempts to disbud are not always successful, resulting in the problem I have with Phantom.  I think the solution is to disbud carefully and don't be timid about repeating the procedure on a growing kid as soon as the scur appears.

This is that scur that came off.  It is hollow and about 3 inches long and1 1/2 inches wide at the base.

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