Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Disbudding and dehorning

Contributor(s): Paddy Gordon , James Breen

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Introduction

  • Disbudding of calves is a very common procedure to destroy the horn-forming tissues in young animals, so that horns do not develop.
    • The horn consists of an outer keratin layer and inside this lies an extension of the frontal bone and sinus from the cows’ skull.
    • Destroying the skin around the edge of the horn bud in the first few weeks of life prevents horn growth.  
      • Skin may be destroyed by hot iron or by chemical cautery.
      • Chemical cautery with dehorning paste (sodium hydroxide) is only permitted in the first week of life.
    • The procedure can be carried out by the animal owner rather than a veterinary surgeon.
    • The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007 identifies disbudding as permitted on animals not more than six months old.
    • This article aims to lay out the best practice procedures for disbudding.
  • Dehorning involves removal of horns from older animals and should only be carried out by a qualified veterinary surgeon.
Print off the farmer factsheet on Disbudding and dehorning to give to your client.

Uses

Advantages

  • It is widely recognized that horned cattle can present a health and safety risk for stockpersons and veterinarians when handling.
  • Horned cattle also pose a risk of injury to their herd mates during aggressive interactions, as well as a risk of self injury due to getting stuck in feed barriers, fences or other structures around the farm.
  • Disbudding, rather than dehorning, means the procedure is carried out in the young animal when restraint is simple and trauma minimized.
  • Hot-iron cauterization is a simple method with very few post operative complications and does not involve isolation of treated animals (as with chemical cautery). For these reasons the use of hot-iron cauterization is the only method recommended here.

Disadvantages

  • Disbudding is a permitted mutilation and potential welfare issue.
    • Good technique and appropriate anesthesia and analgesia are required to prevent poor animal welfare.
  • Operator skill is required in restraint and anesthesia to minimise the risk of injury.
  • Chemical cauterization:
    • The use of chemical cautery poses a real risk of serious tissue damage to the calf as well as accidental injury to the operator if not used correctly.
    • It requires the procedure to be done while animals are in individual pens with no physical contact between animals.  
    • It has been reported that calves have been blinded by cautery paste, when they have been allowed out in the rain soon after its application.

Requirements

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Preparation

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Procedure

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Aftercare

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Bates A J, Laven R A, Chapple F & Weeks D S (2016) The effect of different combinations of local anaesthesia, sedative and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on daily growth rates of dairy calves after disbudding. NZ Vet J 64 (5), 282-7 PubMed.
  • Stock M, Baldridge S, Griffin D & Coetzee J (2013) Pain Management; Bovine Dehorning : Assessing Pain and Providing Analgesic Management. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract 29 (1), 103–133 PubMed.
  • Stilwell G, Lima M S, Carvalho R C & Broom D M (2012) Effects of hot-iron disbudding, using regional anaesthesia with and without carprofen, on cortisol and behaviour of calves. Research in Veterinary Science 92 (2), 338–341 PubMed.
  •  Gottardo F, Nalon E, Contiero B, Normando S, Dalvit P & Cozzi G (2011) The dehorning of dairy calves: Practices and opinions of 639 farmers. Journal of Dairy Science 94 (11), 5724–5734 PubMed.
  • Heinrich A, Duffield T, Lissemore K, Squires E & Millman S (2009) The impact of meloxicam on postsurgical stress associated with cautery dehorning. Journal of Dairy Science 92 (2), 540–547 PubMed.

Other sources of information


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