An increasing number of dairy producers are converting from hot-iron to caustic paste for early age dehorning. Here’s why:
1. Paste is less painful: Research from the University of British Columbia found that calves dehorned with caustic paste experience less pain than calves dehorned with a hot iron, even when a local anesthetic is used.
2. Paste is safer for crew: You may remember this guest blog by Jeanne Wormuth, manager at CY Heifer Farm, citing an employee’s burn injury as the main reason her facility switched to paste. There’s also no need for a squeeze chute or extreme physical restraint. Check out this video of a calf being dehorned with caustic paste.
3. Paste has high acceptance in the industry: Caustic paste is consistent with recommendations from the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) Gold Standards III, which recommends a “cautery” method at less than one month of age, and the AVMA Animal Welfare Policy, which recommends that dehorning be performed “at the earliest age practicable.”
4. Paste is preferred by consumers: With paste, there’s no smoke, no bawling and very little, if any, resistance from the calf. And there’s nothing sensational to capture in an undercover video.
Still curious about paste? Check out these Top 5 Producer Concerns about Using Caustic Dehorning Paste, then try paste for yourself. Humane animal management practices are a good enough reason to switch, and are increasingly being requested by consumers. Why wouldn’t you switch?
Fulwider, W.K., et al. Survey of Dairy Management Practices on 113 North Central and Northeastern United States Dairies. J. Dairy Sci. 2008. 91:1686-1692.
USDA APHIS, Veterinary Services, National Animal Health Monitoring System, October 2008. Reference of Beef Cow-Calf Management Practices in the United States, 2007-2008.
Vickers, K.J. et al. Calf Response to Caustic Paste and Hot-Iron Dehorning Using Sedation With and Without Local Anesthetic. April 2005. J. Dairy Sci. 88:1454-1459
For the first time, dehorning is included among animal welfare standards published by the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) which represents more than 600 heifer growers in the United States.
The DCHA introduced its “Gold Standards III” at last fall’s American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) conference in St. Louis. Developed by a committee of heifer growers, veterinarians and industry representatives, the guidelines include updated recommendations for calf housing, handling, transportation, elective medical care and other practices with an emphasis on animal welfare. They were reviewed by the Animal Welfare Committee of the AABP and a panel of university experts.
On the subject of dehorning, the Standards specify disbudding as the “preferred” method for horn removal, recommending “cautery” at less than one month of age with local anesthesia. Dehorning at least than three months of age is also acceptable with local anesthesia and sedation. You can read the complete Gold Standards III here.
Gold III also supports the “Five Freedoms” developed in the United Kingdom by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, now the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, one of which is freedom from pain. Of the two “cautery” methods, disbudding with caustic paste has been shown to be less painful than hot-iron dehorning, even when a local anesthetic is used.
For its next incarnation of guidelines, perhaps the DCHA will specify caustic paste disbudding for horn removal that has “the animals’ best welfare interests in mind”, according to DCHA board member and Gold Standards III committee chair Vance Kells.
What do you think of the DCHA’s Gold Standards III?
Dairy Calf and Heifer Association, http://www.calfandheifer.org/
Jim Dickrell. “Gold Standards III: Heifer growers set welfare guidelines.” Dairy Today, Nov. 1, 2011. http://www.agweb.com/article/gold_standard_iii/
Vickers, K.J. et al. Calf Response to Caustic Paste and Hot-Iron Dehorning Using Sedation With and Without Local Anesthetic. April 2005. J. Dairy Sci. 88:1454-1459.