Horn Talk Blog

Dave Lucas

Recent Posts

How to Talk to a Reporter or Consumer about Dehorning.

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Jul 19, 2012

ReporterUndercover video is the latest tactic used by animal rights activist groups to pressure farmers into abandoning common management practices. One major dairy product manufacturer is being targeted for accepting milk from farms where cows are dehorned. If your operation is among the majority that practices dehorning, be prepared for a call or visit from the media seeking comment on this issue. A calm, measured response can go a long way to help consumers see beyond the sensationalism, and paint a much more realistic portrait of animal agriculture. These points can also be used in farm social media to connect directly with consumers.

Key points to keep in mind when talking about dehorning:

  • Dehorning is necessary for human and animal safety.

  • Cow horns are dangerous for dogs, horses, other cows and all animals and people on a farm.

  • Many calves are dehorned early in life, before horn buds have a chance to attach to the skull. This procedure is called “disbudding.”

  • Early-age disbudding is preferred to minimize discomfort.

  • For older animals, dairy farmers and veterinarians work together to ensure horns are removed safely and humanely.

  • Dairy farmers are highly motivated to take very good care of their cows. All dairy farmers work regularly with veterinarians to keep their cows healthy.

  • Some cattle are bred hornless, but this is not practical for dairy cattle. It takes many generations (decades) to ensure cows inherit the proper traits, and may adversely affect the animals’ overall health.

Anyone can be victimized by an undercover video campaign. This excellent article posted on Dairy Herd Network, Are you ready for the cameras?, offers practical suggestions for dealing with the aftermath of a public relations crisis, including lining up resources and support to help your operation survive. It also offers great advice for any producer ready to step up and proactively present a more balanced viewpoint on animal agriculture.

Topics: Disbudding, Videos, Dehorning

10 Most Popular Posts on Horn Talk

Posted by Dave Lucas on Fri, Jun 22, 2012

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.

Topics: Pain Relief, Dehorning Paste, How-To Dehorn Calves, Caustic Paste, Dehorning Process, Videos, Animal Welfare, Dr. Aurora Villarroel, Dehorning Pain, Dehorning

Top 2 Consumer Misconceptions About Dehorning

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, May 17, 2012

Dehorning is necessaryWe live in a society where 98% of people no longer have any direct ties to animal agriculture. Even sights as common as a prolapsed uterus or a case of scours can be horrifying for people who’ve never set foot on working farm. It’s no wonder certain typical animal management practices are sometimes viewed with confusion or even outrage. Dehorning in particular seems to elicit two common responses in non-ag audiences:

1. Dehorning is unnecessary.

2. Dehorning is cruel.

Is dehorning unnecessary? Those of us who make a living as dairy or beef producers know for a fact dehorning is absolutely essential for the safety of every cow, horse, dog and human on that farm. But don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which represents 80,000 veterinarians, has to say about the Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle:

Dehorned cattle require less feeding trough space; are easier and less dangerous to handle and transport; present a lower risk of interference from dominant animals at feeding time; pose a reduced risk of injury to udders, flanks, and eyes of other cattle; present a lower injury risk for handlers, horses, and dogs; exhibit fewer aggressive behaviors associated with individual dominance; and may incur fewer financial penalties on sale.

Some argue dehorning is unnecessary because cattle can be bred polled, or naturally hornless. That’s true to a point (no pun intended). However, the vast majority of dairy cattle in the United States, and a significant number of beef cattle, are not polled. Breeding for this trait doesn’t happen overnight, and simply demanding producers buy and raise only polled cattle is unrealistic. For most dairy producers, dehorning remains an essential management practice for human and animal safety.

Is dehorning cruel? Some animal activist organizations would certainly have you think so, characterizing the practice as “mutilation” and claiming it involves cutting horns out of the animal’s skull. First, dehorning does not necessarily involve cutting horns out of the animal’s skull since horn buds don’t even attach to the skull until the eighth week of life. There’s plenty of time during those eight weeks for producers to disbud with a hot-iron or dehorning paste, neither of which involve any kind of cutting. Second, like any animal management practice, dehorning has the potential to be abusive in the hands of an untrained or insensitive employee. It’s up to farm owners and managers to take a zero-tolerance policy against animal abuse of any kind.

Could our industry do a better job of improving animal welfare? Yes, we could -- and we are, as evidenced by initiatives like the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) Gold Standards III which emphasizes humane handling and other welfare considerations.

Could we employ more humane dehorning methods? Certainly. Pain relief should be a routine part of any invasive procedure, which should be performed at the earliest age possible. Research has shown that early-age disbudding with caustic paste is less painful than hot-iron dehorning, even when a local anesthetic is used.

As we move toward greater transparency in the food animal system, producers will be increasingly called upon to answer questions about their management practices – and correct misconceptions. If welfare is a priority in your operation, you can feel free to answer tough questions with confidence.


Topics: Pain Relief, Caustic Paste, Disbudding, Dehorning Methods, Animal Welfare, Dehorning Pain, Dehorning

A 5-Step Dehorning Protocol

Posted by Dave Lucas on Tue, Apr 24, 2012

Disbudding with Caustic PasteIn its most recent issue of Ag Animal Health, Washington State University Veterinary Medicine Extension cites the four-step pain management process recommended for dehorning by Dr. Todd Duffield of Ontario Veterinary College:

1. Develop a dehorning protocol

2. Use a Lidocaine nerve block

3. Dehorn calves less than four weeks of age

4. Use an approved NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) for calves over four months of age

 We’ve cited Dr. Duffield’s AABP Proceedings article, Current Data On Dehorning Calves, in several blogs, including Dehorning and Analgesia and Is Paste Disbudding Really More Humane? This protocol is certainly consistent with the new Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Gold Standards which call for disbudding calves under one month of age with “cautery” methods and local anesthesia. For older calves, the DCHA recommends using both local anesthesia and sedation.

The editor of Ag Animal Health recommends a fifth step to Dr. Duffield’s protocol: Training and retraining individuals conducting dehorning procedures. This is so common-sense, it almost seems ludicrous to include it in a formal protocol. However, many of us in the business have witnessed or heard about dehorning mishaps that result in injuries to crew members. You may recall Jeanne Wormuth’s guest blog last year about the employee who accidentally burned herself with a butane dehorner, prompting the calf-growing operation to switch to caustic paste.

However, even caustic paste needs to be handled with care. Dehorning.com offers two important resources to help train crew members in dehorning paste application. Feel free to use one or both in your own operation:

Do you think five steps in a dehorning protocol is too few? Too many? Or just right?


Topics: Dehorning Paste, Caustic Paste, Disbudding, Todd Duffield, Dehorning Protocol, Dehorning Pain

New Undercover Video Targets Dehorning.

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Apr 12, 2012

Animal activists have released another undercover video showing what they claim are abusive practices at a New York dairy operation. The two-minute video released last month shows workers herding animals with poles and electric prods, inseminating cows, tail-docking and includes a close-up photograph of a cow’s prolapsed uterus (a common, easily treated condition following calving). The video also shows a worker disbudding young calves with an electric dehorner; the group’s website claims workers “lop[ped] off” the horns of older calves, although there is no video shown to support this.

This organization is now urging the public to email one of the dairy’s customers, a cooperative supplier, and request the company adopt the group’s own “reasonable” animal welfare guidelines. These guidelines call for the elimination of a number of industry and management practices, including dehorning.

The dairy in question has been welfare-certified by the New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program (NYSCHA) (a process in which every animal on the farm is examined by a veterinarian), and we will not debate its welfare practices here. What we find distasteful is this activist group’s purported interest in advancing farm animal welfare when its real agenda is promoting a vegan diet. Sensationalist undercover videos are less about improving the ways animals are cared for than about supporting legislation that will eventually drive food animal production overseas.

 What’s more, proposing a total ban on basic management procedures like dehorning is both unrealistic and unsafe. Animal with horns present a very real threat to humans, other cows, dogs and horses. The American Veterinary Medical Association knows this, and has long endorsed the practice of dehorning, provided steps are taken to minimize pain and distress.

Animal activist groups might better advance their objectives to “improve the lives of cows and calves on dairy farms” by meeting farmers halfway, i.e., encouraging the adoption of early-age disbudding with caustic paste. This practice has been shown in studies to cause significantly less pain than dehorning with a hot-iron, and helps improve the safety of both humans and animals.

Topics: Caustic Paste, Hot-Iron Dehorning, Videos, Animal Welfare, Dehorning

Julie Berry: Pain Management as an Animal Health and Welfare Practice

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Mar 22, 2012

Julie Berry for Dehorning.comJulie Berry is a freelance science writer.

Another animal rights activist undercover video of a NY farm was released last week that targeted dehorning and other common animal care practices.

Animal rights activists continue to use these videos as a tactic to support legislation that guides how animals are cared for. While this legislation to general consumers can appear well-meaning, it is often not based on science, and can threaten to drive food production overseas.

However, farmers need to take seriously concerns of consumers about how animals are treated on farms, keep current on research and best management practices, and tell their farm family story effectively.

One area of growing research is use of pain management with practices such as dehorning and castration. A recent article published in the Journal of Animal Science showed that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) protocols used in calves at castration can increase average daily gain and reduce susceptibility to disease.

Castration improves meat quality and reduces animal injuries at the feedlot. No compounds are currently approved for pain relief in cattle and available products may not be practical or cost-effective.

“Identification of analgesic compounds that may also have performance benefits after castration would provide livestock producers with an efficient and economically viable way to address animal health and welfare concerns,” wrote the study authors.

The study “Effect of oral meloxicam on health and performance of beef steers relative to bulls castrated on arrival at the feedlot” compared the effect of the NSAID meloxicam on health and performance of calves received as steers versus bull calves castrated surgically on arrival at the feedlot.  In castrated calves meloxicam reduced the pen-level first pull rate and reduced bovine respiratory disease. Meloxicam administration via an oral dose mixed in 50 mL of water before castration in post-weaning calves reduced the incidence of respiratory disease at the feedlot. Meloxicam mitigates pain associated with inflammation after castration.

“These findings suggest that meloxicam administration before castration in post-weaning calves may decrease the number of castrated calves requiring antimicrobial therapy for pneumonia and lessen the economic impact of BRD in livestock production systems. These results have implications for developing pain mitigation strategies involving NSAID in calves at castration with respect to addressing both animal health and welfare concerns,” wrote the study authors.

“Meloxicam administered to cattle by any route constitutes extra-drug label use because currently no analgesic drugs are specifically approved to provide pain relief in livestock in the United States. Under the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act, extra-label drug use is permitted under veterinary supervision for relief of suffering in cattle provided specific conditions are met. Meloxicam injection (20 mg/mL) is approved for use in cattle in the European Union with a 15 day meat withdrawal and in Canada with a 20 day meat withdrawal time after administration of 0.5 mg/kg IV or SC.”


Topics: Pain Relief, Animal Welfare, Dehorning Pain, Dehorning

Dehorning Now Part of Gold Standards for DCHA

Posted by Dave Lucas on Tue, Feb 14, 2012

DCHA Logo smFor 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.

Topics: Caustic Paste, AABP, Dehorning, DCHA

Julie Berry: Dehorning Pain Management

Posted by Dave Lucas on Wed, Feb 1, 2012

describe the imageJulie 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

An article published recently in the American Journal of Veterinary Research evaluated practical and cost-effective ways to reduce pain and distress from castration and dehorning in Holstein calves.

“Negative public perception of procedures involved with castration and dehorning is mounting, with calls for the development of practices that minimize pain associated with common husbandry practices. Use of analgesic and anesthesia during painful procedures such as castration and dehorning has been suggested by organizations such as the AVMA, however, FDA-approved drugs labeled for the treatment of pain in animals do not currently exist,” wrote the study authors.

This study evaluated cortisol levels of 40 2-to-4 month old calves after dehorning and castration or sham dehorning and castration. Cows are prey animals, and will conceal pain, but plasma cortisol levels rise in response to pain or distress. Castration by surgery and hot iron dehorning are known to increase plasma cortisol concentration.

“The process of evaluating pain is especially complex in prey species, such as cattle, that inherently conceal pain,” wrote the study authors.

Plasma cortisol levels peak 30 minutes after dehorning, and plateau for 5 to 6 hours. Xylazine, ketamine, and butorphanol (XKB) administered intramuscularly had peak effectiveness at 10 minutes, but effectiveness decreases 1 hour after treatment. Salicylate (SAL) was dissolved in free choice water, mixed with molasses to increase palatability, at a concentration of 2.5 to 5 mg of SAL/ml.

“Results indicated that the treatment of cattle prior to castration and dehorning with SAL alone or in combination with XKB increased ADG and decreased circulating cortisol concentration,” wrote the study authors.

And, the study found that calves that received pain relievers grew better.

“ADG was significantly greater for 13 days after castration and dehorning in calves receiving SAL in drinking water provided ad libitum. This effect may in part be attributable to prolonged analgesic effects by the drugs but may also be due to the anti-inflammatory effects,” wrote the study authors. “Co-administration of XKB alone or in combination with salicylate in drinking water attenuated the cortisol response after castration and dehorning. Furthermore, ADG in calves that received free-choice salicylate was significantly greater than in the calves in the placebo and XKB groups, suggesting NSAID treatment in water may mitigate negative performance effects associated with castration and dehorning in calves.”

“Furthermore, possible production benefits resulting from that increase in ADG would likely make the addition of analgesic treatments to castration and dehorning protocols more cost-effective.”

 According to the study, aspirin has a recommended meat and milk withdrawal of 24 hours, and further studies are needed to evaluate tissue withdrawals when SAL is used as it was in the study. Xylazine administered at a dose of 0.05 to 0.30 mg/kg has a recommended withdrawal of 4 days in meat and 24 hours in milk. The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank suggests withdrawal times for ketamine at dosages up to 10 mg/kg IM be 3 days for meat and 28 hours for milk. Butorphanol has a suggested withdrawal time of 48 hours. Pain management practices should be implemented under the supervision of a veterinarian.

“Use of SAL is only permitted in an approved formulation under the supervision of a veterinarian to alleviate suffering, provided use does not result in a violative tissue residue.”

“Pharmokinetics and physiologic effects of intramuscularly administered xylazine hydrochloride-ketamine butorphanol tartrate alone or in combination with orally administered sodium salicylate on biomarkers of pain in Holstein calves following castration and dehorning” was co-authored by Sarah L Baldridge, DVM, MS; Johann F Coetzee, BVSc, PhD; Steve S Dritz, DVM, PhD; James B Reinbold, DVM, PhD; Ronette Gehring, BVSc, MMedVet; James Havel, BS; and Butch Kukanich, DVM, PhD.


Are there other ways to make dehorning pain relief practical and cost-effective?



Topics: Dehorning Pain

New McDonald's Ad Campaign Features Suppliers.

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Jan 5, 2012

McDonald'sIn our last blog, we looked at attitudes toward food traceability among Americans and Europeans. We concluded that all consumers want reassurances their food is produced in a safe and humane manner. This week, McDonald’s addresses these concerns with a new advertising campaign focusing on beef and produce suppliers.

One supplier is Steve Foglesong, owner of Black Gold Ranch, a cow-calf, stocker and feedlot operation in central Illinois, who talks about his ranch’s commitment to quality and sustainability. The McDonald's campaign also features potato and lettuce growers. You can see all the suppliers at www.mcdonalds.com/suppliers.

This emphasis on suppliers represents a shift for the world’s largest restaurant chain, which previously focused on the quality of food rather than its source. According to U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Neil Gordon, the campaign is part of a larger initiative to improve transparency and communication with consumers. In an interview with Advertising Age, Golden said, “We acknowledge that there are questions about where our food comes from. I believe we’ve got an opportunity to accentuate that part of our story.”

Providers like Black Gold Ranch are secondary sources for McDonald’s. According to Advertising Age, the company works directly with 250 suppliers, including Cargill, Lopez Foods and Golden State Foods. In November, McDonald’s dropped a Cargill egg supplier, Sparboe Farms, following a Mercy For Animals undercover video depicting animal mistreatment. Sparboe has since conducted its own investigation, fired the employees involved and retrained workers in animal handling techniques.

What do you think of the new McDonald’s campaign?

Topics: food safety, traceability, Videos, Animal Welfare

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