Horns are a formidable weapon atop the head of an unruly goat, puncturing everything in its path from fences to other goats to even people.
When homesteader Kara Buck moved to her property in Washburn, the house that she bought came with an aggressive black and white goat named Sir Billy. Buck didn’t want Sir Billy headbutting and injuring one of her children, so she did some research.
Her solution: pool noodles.
Having horned goats on a homestead can present a variety of problems, from the goats injuring other animals or people to getting stuck in fences. With some homesteaders looking to avoid the controversial practice of disbudding their kid goats and others rescuing adults long past the age when horns can be removed, they’re turning to DIY solutions like sheathing horns with pool noodles or insulation pipes for safety.
Buck said that pool noodles have helped to avert disaster at the horns of Sir Billy.
“One time Sir Billy got out of the gate and my 4-year-old got excited and ran over to him. He head butted her in the shoulder but due to the length of his horns one of them hit her on the side of the face,” said Buck, who said her daughter was fine but likely would have been injured without the pool noodles. Buck covers the noodles in duct tape to keep them intact.
Soon after, Buck acquired another goat, Jonah, who was “known to jab sometimes,” according to his previous owners.
“This concerned me because I didn’t want him to puncture me or Sir Billy,” Buck said. “So once Jonah got here he got his noodled, too.”
Pool noodles aren’t the only tool homesteaders use. Insulation pipes can be used similarly.
Some homesteaders claim to have tried pool noodles on their rambunctious, destructive goats with no success. Even with reinforcements, goats have been able to remove them, and sometimes will even nibble on each other’s noodles, which can wreak havoc on their digestive systems.
Jacki Perkins, organic dairy and livestock specialist at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said that she has personally had good luck with pool noodling her goats — though the silly sight was an adjustment for some of her other farm animals.
“It works great,” Perkins said. “Cutting them just to the ends of the horn length keeps them from getting caught and fraying. They scare the bejeezus out if horses of they’re not trimmed to length. If there’s horses around with the goats it might be helpful to desensitize the horse to the noodles first, then let them watch you strap them to the goat.”
While it might solve trouble for the short-term, Crystal Lewis, owner of Blue Tin Farm in Edgecomb, warned that the need for pool noodles might be indicative of a larger problem with your goats.
“It’s natural behavior for them to fight with each other and play with each other, but if it gets to a point where they’re trying to maim each other there might be other reasons — medical, mineral imbalance, disease,” Lewis said. “It might be a behavioral problem. They could have been abused in a prior location.”
Aggressive goats may be able to be retrained, or the aggression could also be seasonal — particularly for intact male goats in rut during mating season. Lewis said to try and figure out what behavioral issues your goat might have before condemning them to the noodle.
“If they’re destroying infrastructure, they might be bored. Usually a lot of animal behavior can be corrected with toys to play with,” Lewis said. “If they’re not out in a big pasture where they can graze and forage and do the stuff that goats normally do they need some entertainment and things to do during the day.”
If you are buying baby goats, Lewis said that having them disbudded at an appropriate time is the best thing to do. Lewis disbuds her goats, particularly the ones that she sells.
For horned goats that are set in their ways — like Buck’s Sir Billy and Jonah — pool noodles can be effective. Lewis said to just make sure you aren’t putting a Band-Aid over a larger problem that can be solved.
“You can absolutely have horned goats, you just have to understand horned goats,” Lewis said. “It’s a solution for some but not for all.”