Horn Talk Blog

Americans vs. Europeans: Who's More Willing To Pay For Traceability?

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Dec 15, 2011

Meat CoolerTwo relatively recent studies expose some striking similarities and differences between Americans and Europeans when it comes to food traceability. Clearly, consumers on both sides of the Atlantic take food safety and animal welfare seriously. One group, however, is much more willing to pay more for “traceability assurances”, while the other tends to take such assurances for granted. But this might not be the case for long.

Researchers from the University of Naples and the University of Massachusetts analyzed the results of several studies evaluating the willingness of European consumers to pay more for various food attributes. They found that Europeans were willing to pay 22 percent more, on average, for “food safety”, 17 percent more for “on-farm traceability” and 14 percent more for “animal welfare.” The authors hypothesized that Europeans are willing to pay more for meat-traceable attributes than North Americans, and cited the recent European trend of banning products containing growth hormones and genetically modified organisms.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Merck Animal Health funded a study of consumer attitudes toward beef. It showed that while Americans were not overly influenced by negative media coverage of safety, animal welfare or environmental issues related to beef, they do want reassurances that their food is healthy and safe, and that food animals are treated humanely. They generally trust assurances such as government labeling, and say they don’t need details about farm of origin or management practices, but still want” transparency”. Not surprisingly, American consumers react much more favorably to terms like “family farm” and “traditional beef” than to terms like “factory farm.”

Based on these studies, researchers recommend the beef industry align with consumer values by emphasizing “traditional” beef, with its legacy of assured safety and quality, produced by hard-working farm families. They also call for greater transparency in the production process, which undoubtedly includes management practices such as dehorning. From a welfare perspective, early-age disbudding with caustic paste is clearly the least invasive, least painful and most humane method of horn removal.

The United States appears to be slowly aligning with European consumers who are not only demanding more transparency in the food animal system, but are increasingly willing to pay for it. Studies like these illustrate the growing need for beef and dairy producers to live up to consumer expectations of quality and safety while reassuring them these expectations are met in a humane manner.


Topics: food safety, traceability, Animal Welfare, Dehorning

Julie Berry: Humane Society Says Welfare Should Be #1 Issue For Retailers

Posted by Dave Lucas on Tue, Nov 29, 2011

Julie BerryJulie Berry is a freelance science writer. In this week's blog, she shares her observations from the recent Center for Food Integrity's Food Summit held in Chicago, IL.



By Guest Blogger: Julie Berry, Science Writer, BS, Cornell University, MA, Johns Hopkins University

Move Over Local. Move Over Organic. Humane Is Stepping In.

The US needs uniform national legislation guiding care of animals, said Paul Shapiro, Senior Director, Farm Animal Protection, for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) during the Food Animal Well-Being “Creating Alignment Between Customer Expectations and Supply Chain Practices” session at the Center for Food Integrity’s Food Summit 2011.

 HSUS is an animal rights activist group and an active proponent of proposition 2 legislation and animal care standards that passed in California, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, Maine and Florida. This legislation focuses on battery cages for hens, veal crates, and gestation crates for pigs.

 “There are anticruelty laws. Cock fighting is illegal. Dog fighting is illegal. What about farm animals,” he said.

 The standards passed are inconsistent between states. There is no federal law, many state exemptions, and virtually no protection for farm animals, Shapiro said.

 “Research has confirmed what common sense already knew. Animals built to move must move,” he said quoting Bernard Rollin, Department of Philosophy, Colorado State University.

 Shapiro challenged using animal productivity as a measure of animal welfare. And he challenged participants to raise the bar, be transparent and find common ground with animal activist groups. Decisions should not be about competitive advantage or disadvantage. Choice lies with the consumer, he said.

 “Future generations will look back and ask how could we have let these practices be the norm? It’s a blessing that consumers are removed from the food system,” he said.

 He cited a 2001 USDA survey that found nearly 51 percent of US dairy operations tail dock even though, he said, science overwhelmingly does not support this practice. He cited statements opposing tail docking from the University of Wisconsin Agriculture and Extension Service Center, National Milk Producers Federation, American Veterinary Medical Association, California Dairy Quality Assurance Program and Dairy Herd Management editor Thomas Quaife.

 “The issue is where the science is overwhelming but the practice continues,” Shapiro said.

 Shapiro also raised concern about pain management in animals. Farm Bureau and Oklahoma State University’s national telephone survey respondents indicated that 81 percent believe farm animals have roughly the same ability to feel pain and discomfort as humans, 68 percent say that the government should take an active role in promoting farm animal welfare, and 75 percent would vote for a law in my state requiring farmers to treat their animals better.

 Animal welfare ranks as the 3rd most important social issue to restaurant patrons, following health insurance coverage and living wages, according to a Technomic Information Services survey, Shapiro said.

 “Move over local. Move over organic. Humane should be top of mind for food retailers,” Shapiro said quoting Phil Lempert, who is known as the Supermarket Guru.

 Food needs to be affordable, and we need to have science-based decision making, Shapiro said. Consumers are interested in making conscious food choices, humane management, socially responsible products, animal well-being, the environment, and food safety and worker safety.

 Slides of Shapiro’s presentation are online at: http://www.foodintegrity.org/main/event/5.

Topics: Humane Society, Animal Welfare, Center for Food Integrity

Dr. Kurt Vogel: Assessing Pain and Stress in Livestock

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Nov 3, 2011

Dr. Kurt Vogel


This week's blog post is written by Dr. Kurt Vogel, Ph.D, an Assistant Professor of Animal Science, Livestock Welfare and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. Dr. Vogel studied at Colorado State University under noted animal welfare activist Temple Grandin. He teaches courses in animal welfare and physiology, conducts research on the impact of management on livestock welfare, recently hosted a series of seminars on societal ethics and animal agriculture, and was profiled in the August issue of Drovers Cattle Network.


By Guest Blogger: Kurt D. Vogel, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Livestock Welfare and Behavior, University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

In any science-based discussion of painful procedures that are performed in livestock management systems, common terms and phrases like cortisol, epinephrine, heart rate, and vocalization are likely to come up. From the sidelines, it may appear that assessing animal pain is reasonably straightforward: just pull a blood sample, analyze the concentration of a pain-indicating substance in the blood, and – voila! – the amount of pain the animal experienced is revealed. Unfortunately, assessing animal pain is not that simple. There are many factors that influence the quality and suitability of the pain assessment measures that we use. Let’s take a look at a couple of the factors that must be considered when an assessment of animal pain is performed.

The first consideration to make when performing an assessment of animal pain is the suitability of the measurement. Let’s use the stress hormone cortisol as an example. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to some sort of immediate stressor – fear and pain are a couple of examples. The major physiological role of cortisol is to increase the amount of glucose that is circulating in the blood. The resulting increase in blood glucose gives the body the extra energy it needs to overcome the stressor. This is a small part of the body’s response to an immediate or acute stressor. So, in cases where we need to determine how much stress an animal experiences in response to a short-term painful event, cortisol is quite useful. However, when the animal is under chronic stress, blood cortisol levels will increase immediately after the stress has begun, but will return to normal or near normal even though the animal may still be experiencing some level of pain. This is one of the reasons why cortisol is not, and should not be, the sole indicator of animal pain and stress in scientific literature. From the standpoint of an animal welfare scientist, acute pain and stress is much simpler to assess than chronic stress.

Another challenge to assessing animal pain and stress is accounting for the presence of humans in close proximity to the animals. For most domestic livestock, close contact with a human can be highly stressful. If we plan to assess the amount of pain that calves experience during the application of caustic paste to the horn buds, we have to compare the response of the calves to calves that did not receive the paste application. We call this a ‘sham’ procedure. During a sham procedure, all of the handling associated with the procedure is performed and the same indicators of pain and stress are measured. The data that is collected from the ‘sham’ procedure is then used to factor out the amount of stress that the calf experienced from close contact and handling by humans.

Ultimately, the scientific assessment of the amount of pain and stress that an animal experiences during a painful procedure can be challenging to quantify. Much of the research that has been conducted on the amount of pain experienced by domestic livestock has focused on the amount of acute pain that the animals experienced. Newer studies have identified methods to perform longer-term assessments of pain and stress, but there is still much work to be done to fully understand the chronic pain response in animals.

Topics: Pain Relief, Dehorning Paste, Caustic Paste, Cortisol, Dehorning Pain

Paste Dehorning Posters a Hit at AABP

Posted by Dave Lucas on Fri, Sep 30, 2011

Dehorning PosterWe were happy to provide Dr. Aurora Villarroel, an Extension Veterinarian at Oregon State University, with 250 laminated copies of her paste dehorning poster for her presentation at last week’s conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) in St. Louis, MO. We were even happier to learn all 250 copies were snatched up by attendees.

“The veterinarians and students at AABP loved the posters” said Dr. Villarroel. “I just was sorry I didn’t have more copies to hand out.”

Dehorning.com readers may remember Dr. Villarroel from her guest blog last April about her experience with dehorning paste, and from her November 2010 article in Hoard’s Dairyman, Dehorn Calves Early. She was one of several experts invited to speak on a range of topics related to cattle health at the AABP’s 44th Annual Conference. Her presentation, part of a Practice Tips series, emphasized the ease, effectiveness and economics of disbudding with caustic paste.

“I showed several videos that demonstrated the minimal reaction of the calves,” said Dr. Villarroel, “and how easy it is to apply the paste.” She also addressed timing (“before two days of age” and “after a bottle”), the amount to use (“the size of a dime”) and follow-up care (“don’t let calves get wet for 24 hours”). Dr. Villarroel noted that producers who have switched to paste report great success with no complications, and only minor head shaking in response to application.

Dr.Villarroel’s paste dehorning poster has been promoted in numerous industry publications and websites, including Bovine Veterinarian Magazine and Dairy Herd Network, and features step-by-step application instructions in both English and Spanish. You can download the poster here or contact Dr. Villarroel for more information at aurora.villarroel@oregonstate.edu

Topics: Dehorning Poster, Dehorning Paste, AABP, Poster, Dr. Aurora Villarroel

When Is The Ideal Time To Apply Dehorning Paste?

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Sep 8, 2011
Caustic paste disbudding can be effectively performed on dairy calves up to the point where the horn buds attach to the skull, around eight weeks of age. Practically speaking, however, the procedure really should be performed much sooner, within a few days of birth, for reasons that benefit both the operation and the animal.

At this age, horn buds are still free-floating and quite small. Only a very small amount of dehorning paste applied to this area – about the size of U.S. nickel – is needed to effectively destroy horn-producing tissue. Three- and four-day old calves are docile and easy to handle (especially after a good meal), with no need for squeeze chutes or much restraint beyond a firm grasp. One of our guest bloggers, Jeanne Wormuth, tells us when she applies dehorning paste to sleepy, just-fed dairy calves, many don’t react at all.

Unlike older calves, which may need up to two weeks to return to their pre-dehorning weight,1 calves disbudded within a few days of birth usually recover quickly. They’re also less likely to experience infections, blood loss or other complications associated with mechanical dehorning.

Most important, early-age disbudding makes sense from an animal welfare perspective. As Dr. Todd Duffield from the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College says, “It is generally accepted that the younger the animal is the less painful the dehorning procedure is.”2 A University of Guelph experiment showed that calves under four weeks of age exhibited less of a pain response to hot-iron dehorning than older calves.2

Unfortunately, cattle producers in the United States tend to dehorn at a much later age when the procedure is more invasive and the risks of complications higher. Only about a third of dairy calves3 and less than one-fourth of beef calves4 are disbudded by eight weeks of age. Compare this to dehorning practices in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other countries where caustic paste is typically applied within a few days of birth.5

Are you using caustic paste within the first week of age? Why or why not?

  1. Fred Hopkins, et al. Cattle Preconditioning: Dehorning Calves. Cattle Network. 7/09/2009. www.cattlenetwork.com
  2. Todd Duffield, DVM, DVSc. Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. Current Data on Dehorning Calves, Current Data on Dehorning Calves, AABP Proceedings, Vol. 41, September 2008.
  3. 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.
  4. USDA APHIS, Veterinary Services, National Animal Health Monitoring System, October 2008. Reference of Beef Cow-Calf Management Practices in the United States, 2007-2008.
  5. Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle. American Veterinary Medical Association. June 8, 2011. http://www.avma.org/reference/backgrounders/dehorning_cattle_bgnd.asp

Topics: Dehorning Paste, Disbudding, Jeanne Wormuth

What the AVMA Says About Disbudding and Dehorning Cattle

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Sep 1, 2011

The American Veterinary Medical Association, which represents more than 80,000 veterinarians, is one of the most respected and trusted voices on animal health and welfare issues. In 2006, the AVMA created its Animal Welfare Division to focus on the great challenges animal welfare issues present to the profession as well as to producers.

Cattle dehorning is one of the main issues where the AVMA has taken a leading and active role. The AVMA's Policy on cattle dehorning contains two basic tenets:

  • Dehorning should be done at the earliest age practicable.
  • Disbudding is the preferred method of dehorning calves.

Recently, the AVMA released a 7-page, well-researched backgrounder titled "Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle." For anyone interested in this topic, it's a must-read report. Here's what it covers:

  • Cattle horn anatomy
  • The difference between disbudding and dehorning
  • How disbudding and dehorning are regulated in other countries (it's not regulated in the U.S.)
  • The benefits of disbudding and dehorning
  • Animal welfare concerns from a science and risk-based perspective
  • Pain management
  • Alternatives

As usual, this AVMA Backgrounder is extensively researched and well thought-out.

Another AVMA resource to look at is their video on the organization's Policy on Pain Control for Dehorning. We've blogged about this video before but it's worth revisiting.

What are your thoughts about AVMA's policy and research on disbudding and dehorning of cattle?

Become a Guest Blogger

Topics: AVMA Policy, Animal Welfare

Dehorning Then and Now

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Aug 25, 2011
More than 10 years ago, Dr. Joseph Stookey, a professor from the University of Saskatchewan Western College of Veterinary Medicine wrote a very good article addressing the issue of dehorning from an animal welfare perspective. This was before the era of back-to-back national food recalls, hidden-camera farm exposes, and an unprecedented surge of activism in animal welfare and food safety. We thought it might be worth revisiting this article today to see how the industry has changed over the intervening decade – and how it hasn’t.

Originally published in Beef Magazine and other industry publications, How Are You Dehorning Your Cattle? covered a wide range of dehorning topics, from the use of horns in establishing dominance and theories about the purpose of horns on female cattle, to performance differences between horned and polled animals. Not surprisingly, Dr. Stookey strongly advocated the use of polled genetics as the most “welfare friendly” dehorning method. He also acknowledged that although good polled bulls were readily available to beef producers, this was not the case for dairymen. Dairy producers, he suggested, should dehorn “within the first week of life and which procedure is used makes little difference.” He also asserted that the level of pain experienced based on the animal’s age “is still not known.”

Dr. Stookey was certainly ahead of his time in recommending early-age disbudding from an animal welfare perspective. And although the use of polled genetics has increased in the dairy industry, the availability of quality polled dairy bulls remains very limited. But over the last decade, research has shown that when it comes dehorning and pain, the right procedure – and the age of the animal -- does indeed make a difference.
  • A University of British Colombia study published in the Journal of Dairy Science in 2005 showed that caustic paste dehorning with a sedative elicited less of a pain response in Holstein calves than hot-iron dehorning with both a sedative and a local anesthetic.1 According to researchers, “These results indicate that caustic paste dehorning with xylazine sedation might be a more humane, simpler, and less invasive procedure than hot-iron dehorning with sedation and local anesthesia.”
  • Experiments conducted at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College and published in the AABP Proceedings in 2008 showed that hot-iron dehorning was less painful in younger calves (< 4 weeks) than older calves (6-10 weeks).2
What do you think of Dr. Stookey’s article?

  1. 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.
  2. Todd Duffield, DVM, DVSc. Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. Current Data on Dehorning Calves, AABP Proceedings, Vol. 41, September 2008.

Dehorn Calves Early

Topics: Research, Pain Relief, Disbudding

Typical Dehorning Practices Leave Room For Improvement

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Aug 18, 2011

When it comes to dehorning, if you’re a typical dairy producer in the United States, chances are

  • you use a hot-iron1
  • you dehorn between eight and 12 weeks of age1
  • you don’t use anesthesia or analgesia1
If you’re a typical beef producer, you most likely dehorn
  • with a saw, Barnes or keystone (guillotine) dehorner2
  • around 13 weeks of age2
  • with no anesthesia or analgesia

What about dairy and beef producers outside the United States? Well, if you’re a producer in Europe, you are far more likely to practice early-age disbudding and use anesthesia and/or analgesia than your American counterparts.3 In the EU, 80 percent of dairy cows and only 26% of beef cattle are dehorned, and very few are polled.3

These are just averages, of course, and there is great variation in dehorning practices even within the same production segment. For example, cow-calf producers in the western U. S. are far less likely to use saws, Barnes or keystone dehorners (14%) than cow-calf producers in the eastern U.S. (59%).2 But these numbers do provide a broad look at the practice of dehorning in general, and highlight areas where improvements can be made, especially in the areas of pain relief and early-age disbudding.

When it comes to dehorning, what improvements do you think are needed?


  1. 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.
  2. USDA APHIS, Veterinary Services, National Animal Health Monitoring System, October 2008. Reference of Beef Cow-Calf Management Practices in the United States, 2007-2008.
  3. Cattle Dehorning and Alternatives in the EU. The CattleSite.com. November 2010. www.thecattlesite.com/articles/2540/cattle-dehorning-and-alternatives-in-the-eu

Topics: Research, Pain Relief, Dehorning Methods

What the Humane Society Says About Dehorning

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Aug 11, 2011

In its recent report, The Welfare of Calves in the Beef Industry, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) repeatedly refers to dehorning and disbudding as “mutilations”, asserts that these procedures should be discontinued, and proposes genetic selection for polled (naturally hornless) cattle. The HSUS denounces the use of any “mechanical” dehorning method as well as “bloodless” caustic paste, which it states, incorrectly, requires “multiple applications.”

The HSUS report also expresses concern that dehorning is “commonly performed without pain relief” and that “the majority of [beef production] facilities dehorned calves only after the horns began growing.” These concerns are shared by many within the industry. Organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advocate early-age disbudding as well as the use of local anesthetic during dehorning.

Regarding the use of polled cattle, the vast majority of dairy cattle in the United States, and a significant percentage of beef cattle, is not polled. For owners of these herds, dehorning remains an essential management practice for both human and animal safety.

Regarding HSUS’ claims about caustic paste, we are unaware of any paste products labeled for “multiple applications.” The label for Dr. Naylor Dehorning Paste, for example, states, “Apply Dehorning Paste once only [our emphasis] over horn button and roughened ring around horn button.” A protective ring of petroleum jelly or Udder Balm will confine paste to the paste application area, while isolating the calf for several hours will prevent paste from getting on the dam or other animals.

Contrary to the HSUS, we see dehorning as a necessary management practice for the safety of calves and their human handlers. We also believe the industry can and should be doing a better job of moving closer to the recommendations advocated by the AVMA and others. From an animal welfare perspective, as well as from economic and public relations perspectives, dairy and beef producers should give strong consideration to the practice of early-age disbudding with caustic paste, which has been shown to be less painful than other methods.

What do you think of the Humane Society’s report?

Topics: Research, AVMA Policy, Dehorning Methods, Animal Welfare

Ohio Dairy Farmers Produce Dehorning Video

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Aug 4, 2011

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?

Topics: How-To Dehorn Calves, Caustic Paste, Hot-Iron Dehorning, Videos