Headbutting in Goats (and What to Do About It)

If you were going to associate one behavior with goats, what would it be? Eating, yeah, you’re right—that’s on me. But the second behavior most likely to be associated with would probably be headbutting.

two goats climbed on a 4-wheeler ATV
two goats climbed on a 4-wheeler ATV

Goats headbutt for all sorts of reasons, and at the end of the day, it’s an entirely natural and instinctive behavior. Sometimes, there doesn’t even have to be a purpose for it!

The problem is that goats have very hard skulls or are surprisingly strong, and they often have horns, which can do serious damage to other goats, people, and property.

Learning to manage headbutting is just another part of owning and taking care of these animals. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know and how to deal with headbutting when it becomes troublesome – whether it’s directed at you or not.

Why Do They Do It?

Goats will headbutt for many different reasons, including play, establishing dominance within the herd, responding to intrusions in their personal space or territory, during mating competition, and sometimes simply out of boredom.

Goats might even headbutt stationary objects as a form of communication or signaling to other goats in the area.

Naturally, goats don’t always go full force when headbutting, but even when they are going easy, they can still do damage and inflict injury, especially on people and, very especially, if people aren’t expecting it.

Is Headbutting Really a Problem?

Sometimes.

The rule of thumb you should follow is that if your goats are headbutting each other playfully and not inflicting any injuries or getting stressed out, you don’t have to worry about it.

Likewise, simple dominance displays to establish internal herd hierarchy usually don’t last very long, and most of the time, it won’t cause any serious injury either. There’s no need to interfere with either case…

However, anytime a goat is being headbutted repeatedly, especially by multiple members of the herd, the herd has probably rejected them or turned on them for some reason.

Likewise, if you have multiple bucks, they can and will engage in long-lasting, Titanic struggles to establish dominance over the females, and if they are unable to consummate that relationship, they could fight to exhaustion or to the point of serious injury.

It should go without saying that anytime headbutting results in injury to a goat, you need to take action one way or the other.

When goats are headbutting people, even if they’re just being friendly, it can easily result in bruising and far more severe injury in the case of larger ones or those with sharp horns. It’s really cute when they’re little kids, but it gets old in a hurry and can soon be dangerous.

Do Goats Headbutt Each Other?

Yes, they do. Goats will headbutt each other for all kinds of different reasons, as we will discuss, and do it throughout their lives.

Will Goats Headbutt People?

Oh yes, depend on that! And, surprising as it might be, goats also headbutt people for a variety of reasons, but even if they are doing it for a quote-unquote “good reason,” it’s likely undesirable, and it’s something you’ll have to try to break them or prevent.

Will Goats Without Horns Still Headbutt?

Yes, they will, although goats that lack horns might headbutt a little less or give up after fewer strikes due to increased pain and discomfort.

Goats headbutt instinctively, whether they are naturally born with or without horns, or if they are disbudded, or have their horns removed or broken.

Do Female Goats Headbutt, Too?

Yes, they sure do! Males and females will headbutt; the males are most notorious for it.

Still, some females might be especially prone on an individual level, and females will engage in hierarchical duels between themselves to establish independent groups or cliques within a larger herd.

Will Goat Kids Headbutt?

Yes! It is adorable when they are tiny and can’t do much damage, and kids typically do it as a form of play with each other, with adults, and with people.

Even though a tiny kid can’t cause much real harm to an adult, they can still give you a pretty good whack on the leg if you aren’t careful, and you should pay close attention to goat kids around young children because they can easily knock them down. Goats are surprisingly strong even at this young age.

What Age Do Goats Start Headbutting?

Early, within the first couple of weeks of life as a rule. Like I said above, it is instinctive!

Different Approaches to Curb Headbutting

When a goat’s headbutting becomes problematic for whatever reason, you’ve got to take action. What you should do depends on the context and whether or not the headbutting is directed against other goats or against people.

Against People

The best immediate action response you have to a goat that is preparing to headbutt (stamping, pawing at the ground, staring you down) or is a known offender is to blast it with water.

You can use a water hose for the purpose, a water gun, which is more portable, or even a bucket of water.

The trick is to make sure you hit them with a large quantity and get them right in the face so it will snap them out of the urge to headbutt. Goats, as a rule, don’t like water and definitely don’t like getting wet.

Some good owners have had some luck with staring the goat down, yelling at it, and basically appearing like the top dog- or the top goat, I should say.

If a goat is doing this for dominance reasons or because they perceive an intrusion into their space or territory, this might work, but you should never turn your back on them.

Another approach, one worth trying when you exhaust the others, is to use an air horn. A loud, piercing sound can startle goats and snap them out of their imminent charge.

If all else fails, you just need to avoid going into the enclosure with the goat if you can or, if you can’t, then either give them away or cull them. If you do give them away or sell them, make sure you let other owners know what they’re in for…

Against Specific Goats

If a specific goat is being bullied with repeated headbutting from one or more goats, you either need to remove that goat from the enclosure to keep it safe, or remove the offending troublemakers.

This depends heavily on herd dynamics, so make sure you pay attention to your goats and understand how they get along with each other.

Also, be smart when you are adding goats to an existing herd. Sometimes they’ll get along great, other times they’ll want nothing to do with the interloper, or the interloper will have to fight to establish themselves.

As long as the fighting doesn’t seem particularly brutal, or if it is half-hearted, you should just let it happen, but the moment there are injuries or a goat seems to give up but is still attacked, you must intervene.

Separate paddocks must be ready to hold goats that are being picked on, and you can reduce the intensity of these getting-to-know-you sessions by introducing multiple new goats at once so the “love,” as it were, can be spread around; single goats can get pounded pretty badly.

Putting up sturdy dividers in an existing pen, or removing troublemakers or “victims” to entirely separate pens is likely necessary. If you need time to implement a separate containment plan, you may need to tie-up the aggressive goats to a tree or pole. But keep an eye on them! Goats are notorious for becoming tangled up and sometimes even killing themselves in their tethers!

Reduce Boredom and Stress to Curb Headbutting

Keep in mind also that goats will headbutt solid objects and sometimes each other just because they are bored or stressed. Making sure they have plenty of toys and climbable surfaces, plenty of space, and a calm, clean, and pleasant living area can help to keep headbutting to a minimum.

Using Foam Pool Noodles to Cover Goats’ Horns

No, I don’t recommend it. This technique was made famous by the internet since it’s hilarious and share-worthy, but it’s not a good solution.

For starters, pool noodles come off goat horns very easily, and even if they stay in place while the goat is walking around, they will scrape them off on obstacles when they start to rub or lean.

Plus, they don’t do much to reduce the impact of headbutting. Goats will still be slamming their skulls into each other, or into you, with considerable strength.

Though the pool noodle might do a little bit to protect you from a sharp point on a horn, it does precious little to reduce blunt force injury. Don’t waste your time with this one.

Headbutting Pinterest image

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