Eighteen months ago, I wrote my first blog post for Horn Talk -- the first and thus far only blog dedicated exclusively to the subject of dehorning. Since then, Horn Talk, which is part of the Dehorning.com website, has logged thousands of page views from people all over the world. We’ve covered topics ranging from pain relief during dehorning to food traceability, and explored the perspectives of producers, veterinarians, activists and consumers on two continents. We’ve also been fortunate to feature guest blogs from the some of the brightest minds in the industry. Along the way, some posts seemed to have struck a nerve more than others. Here, in reverse order, are the 10 most popular posts to date on Horn Talk.
#10: Top 2 Consumer Misconceptions About Dehorning. This post had something for everyone: dairy farmers, beef producers, veterinarians, animal rights activists and, of course, consumers.
#9: UBC Survey: Is Pain Relief Needed When Disbudding Or Dehorning Calves? Dehorning is an invasive procedure, and pain relief is a topic we've returned to time and again on Horn Talk.
#8: New Mercy For Animals Video Shows Animal Cruelty And Dehorning. There’s no excuse for abusing calves. It’s especially unfortunate when a procedure like dehorning gets swept up in the scandal and forces the industry to repeatedly defend standard management practices that reduce the risk of injury to humans and animals.
#7: A Step-By-Step Guide To Using Dehorning Paste. It's not difficult to apply dehorning paste, but instructions should be followed carefully for best results. This post featured both a video and written instructions.
#6: Dr. Aurora Villarroel: My Experience With Dehorning Paste. Dr. Villarroel, an Extension Veterinarian at Oregon State University, has been one of the industry’s most passionate proponents of humane paste disbudding.
#5: PETA Proposes An End To Dehorning. Which organization has more credibility when it comes to advising dairy producers on the subject of dehorning? An animal rights group with a vegan agenda? Or the association representing more than 80,000 veterinarians in the United States?
#4: New McDonald’s Ad Campaign Features Suppliers. McDonald’s new focus on beef and produce suppliers got mixed reviews from consumers, but Horn Talk readers seemed favorably impressed.
#3: Managing Infection In Dehorned Calves. Apparently, a lot of people are searching the Internet for ways to prevent infection during dehorning (Hint: Try caustic paste disbudding). Quite a few of them are landing on this post.
#2: Why Paste Disbudding Is Preferred At CY Heifer Farm. Horn Talk readers were intrigued by the story of a crew member’s painful encounter with a butane dehorner, and the switch to a new disbudding protocol for this upstate New York calf raising facility.
#1: How Caustic Dehorning Paste Works. One of our briefest posts ever, this straightforward explanation of how dehorning paste prevents horn growth continues to be the most popular blog post ever on Horn Talk.
Ohio Dairy Farmers recently released an excellent public education video on the importance of humane dehorning. The 3-minute video, Dehorning: A Humane Practice Focused on Cow Safety, is narrated by a veterinarian who explains the rationale behind dehorning, advocates early-age disbudding and the use of pain relief, and demonstrates butane dehorning on a young calf.
We applaud Ohio Dairy Farmers’ for their efforts in educating non-ag audiences about the practice of dehorning, and for their support of humane, early-age disbudding and pain management.
Caustic paste is another humane option for early-age disbudding. Caustic paste disbudding with a local anesthetic (such as the one administered to the calf in the video) has been shown to be less painful than hot-iron disbudding with both a local anesthetic and a sedative. What’s more, when disbudding is performed at 3-5 days of age, there is usually no need for squeeze chute; just mild restraint is necessary.
What do you think of the Ohio Dairy Farmers’ dehorning video?
Infection is a possible complication with any dehorning method, but is most often associated with invasive procedures that expose the sinus cavity and/or cause blood loss. The use of knives, tubes, Barnes (gouge) dehorners, keystone (guillotine) dehorners, obstetrical wire and saws all increase the risk of infection during dehorning.
Exposed sinuses attract disease-carrying flies, and numerous bacteria can be involved.1 The presence of flies or maggots in sinus cavities will be obvious, but other, more subtle signs of sinusitis can include lack of appetite, fever, nasal discharge and abnormal head carriage.1 Such infections can show up immediately after dehorning or even months later, after the wounds have healed.
Several diseases can be spread by dehorning instruments contaminated with blood from infected animals. Researchers at the University of California found that gouge dehorning significantly increased the risk of bovine leukemia virus (BLV) infection in dairy heifers.2 Conversely, not dehorning with a gouge dehorner reduced the risk of BLV transmission by up to 80 percent.2 Other diseases associated with contaminated dehorning equipment include anaplasmosis, bovine cutaneous papillomas3 and tetanus.3
Early-age disbudding with caustic paste or hot-iron, which do not expose the sinus cavities or cause blood loss, reduces the risk of BLV infection associated with dehorning.
If invasive dehorning methods are used, there are several management steps you should take to reduce the risk of infection in your operation:
Monitor mechanically dehorned animals for signs of infection, such as lack of appetite, fever, abnormal head carriage and foul breath. If you see these signs, contact your veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis and treatment.
How do you control dehorning-associated infection in your operation?
- The Merck Veterinary Manual, 9th Edition, 2011.
- Marei-Liesse G. Lassauzet, et al. Effect of Brucellosis Vaccination and Dehorning on Transmission of Bovine Leukemia Virus in Heifers in a California Dairy. Can J Vet Res 1990; 54: 184-189.
- Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle. American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Division. January 28, 2010.
No matter what disbudding method you use, there is a small chance horns will regrow. This happens because horns grow from skin at the base of the horn. If skin around the horn bud or base is ineffectively treated or left intact, regrowth is a possibility.
Horn regrowth can be anything from small scurs to fully regrown horns. Such horns will most likely grow distorted, sometimes curling and growing back into the animal’s head. This PDF article from the Canadian Dexter Cattle Association graphically depicts the consequences of a failed dehorning attempt.
One of the top five producer concerns we hear about caustic paste is lack of effectiveness, i.e., horn regrowth. In a University of Guelph study conducted at a custom heifer raising facility, no horn regrowth was observed in more than 200 calves disbudded with caustic paste or caustic stick.
Tips to prevent or manage horn regrowth:
When disbudding a young calf with caustic paste or a hot-iron, be sure to treat a ½-inch (approximately 1-cm) wide ring of skin around the horn bud to prevent regrowth. If dehorning an older animal, remove a ½-inch (approximately 1-cm) ring of skin around the horn base along with the horn itself.
What dehorning method do you use and what has been your experience with horn regrowth?
This week's blog post is written by Dr. Aurora Villarroel, an Extension Veterinarian at Oregon State University. Dr. Villarroel's objective is to enhance the health of food animals in Oregon, especially ruminants. She currently teaches courses at the School of Veterinary Medicine related to cattle, sheep and goat medicine and surgery. Her research interests include veterinary epidemiology, herd health and production medicine, with special focus on dairy cattle. She is the recent author of "Dehorn Calves Early."
By Guest Blogger: Aurora Villarroel, DVM, MPVM, PhD, Dip.ACVPM, Extension Veterinarian, Department of Animal Sciences, Oregon State University
I have noticed that the caustic dehorning paste is rarely used in farms in the U.S., and I keep hearing dissatisfaction among dairy farmers that have tried it. I started using the paste in Spain more than 20 years ago, and in my experience it is the best dehorning method available, by far.
There are two things you need to pay attention to: timing and housing.
Timing: the secret for the dehorning paste to work well is to dehorn before two days of age! The main reason for this is that after two days of age, calves can figure out how to scratch their heads against something to rub the paste off, and they can stand on three legs to scratch with the other. Additionally, applying the dehorning paste immediately before feeding colostrum (preferably with a nipple) will reduce signs of pain. While the calves concentrate on nursing from the bottle, the paste will be working. Human doctors do the same thing with babies – distract them by making them nurse when they have to do procedures such as needle pricks to get blood samples.
Housing: calves need to be protected from rain for 24 hours after applying the paste. If rain falls over the active dehorning paste, there will be run off towards the eyes that can blind the calf.
Like with any other product, follow manufacturer directions (package insert); the amount of paste to apply on each horn is equivalent to a dime. Using too much paste is the most common mistake of beginners. It will result in big bald spot around the horn area, but the hair will grow back in a couple of months.
Clients who have switched to paste dehorning in newborn calves are very happy with the results: quick, simple and painless.
"Paste Those Horns Away and It's Easier for You Both" (American Agriculturist - July 2010) is authored by Linda Greenwood from Greenwood Dairy, Canton, NY.
Greenwood has been using dehorning paste for five years and does more than 600 calves a year. She writes, "... if you follow the directions that come with it [the dehorning paste], you'll be pleased with the results." Read the full article ...
For today's blog post, Jeanne Wormuth, Manager, CY Heifer Farm shares her insights and experiences dehorning calves.
CY Heifer Farm raises 4,000 calves for 10 dairies in central and western New York. Jeanne began working as operations manager at the heifer farm 12 years ago when it was owned by Agway. CY Farms, owned by Craig Yunker, purchased the heifer facility in 1995.
By Guest Blogger: Jeanne Wormuth, Manager, CY Heifer Farm, Elba, NY
I’ve been raising dairy replacement heifers at our biosecure facility for more than a decade. We now dehorn about 2,000 calves each year. A few years ago, one of our employees accidentally burned herself while using a butane dehorner. We wanted a safer alternative, and our veterinarian suggested caustic paste. We decided to give it a try, and now all our calves are dehorned with paste.
Calves arrive at our farm when they’re around 3 days old. We apply the paste that same day, after they have eaten and are a bit sleepy. It’s obviously less stressful for them than the butane burner. Some shake their heads a bit, but many don’t react at all. There’s definitely less risk of injury to our employees – they just have to wear a pair of protective gloves.
Now, you do have to take your time and go through all the steps – shaving, brushing and application. You can’t take short cuts or speed it up. That’s probably the one disadvantage of this method compared to a hot-iron. But when you consider the improvements in employee safety and animal welfare, paste disbudding is definitely worth the extra steps.
Some farmers are reluctant to use dehorning paste because they think it doesn’t work. I’ve heard those rumors, too. But I’ve dehorned thousands of calves and can tell you if you use dehorning paste correctly, it is every bit as effective as a hot-iron. It’s definitely a lot less stressful – for both the calves and the crew!