Horn Talk Blog

Dehorning in Europe

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Jun 23, 2011
Last November, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, Animal Health and Welfare Directorate released a study on alternatives to cattle dehorning in the European Union. It provides a fascinating glimpse into food animal management practices overseas, highlighting some surprising similarities and differences between operations in Europe and here in the U.S.

Nearly 100 dairy and beef farmers in Italy, Germany and France were interviewed about their practices and attitudes toward dehorning. Compared to U.S. producers, farmers in Europe were slightly less likely to dehorn dairy cattle (approximately 80 percent hornless), and much less likely to dehorn beef cattle (less than 40 percent hornless).1

Most E.U. farmers prefer disbudding over dehorning. Hot-iron disbudding is the most used method, however, the use of caustic paste appears more frequent in the South and the Eastern member states. Surprisingly, most beef farmers in Europe prefer hot-iron disbudding, in contrast to U.S. beef producers, who mostly use mechanical methods. Reasons cited for disbudding as opposed to dehorning include ease for the operator and less pain and stress on calves.1

These findings are consistent with dehorning practices in other countries, including Canada, where the CVMA recommends disbudding in the first week of life, and New Zealand and Australia, where authorities recommend disbudding at the youngest age possible.2

Raising polled animals is an alternative explored in the study. Currently, the prevalence of polled cattle in Europe is very low, less than one percent for dairy and less than four percent for beef.1 European farmers have indicate they may be interested in polled bulls with high genetic merit, and the development of breeding programs for Holstein and Charolais cattle are underway.  Some negative traits have appeared in German Fleckvieh breeding programs, and more research is needed to determine if these are linked to the polled gene.

What do you find most and least surprising about dehorning practices in Europe?

  1. Cattle Dehorning and Alternatives in the EU. The CattleSite.com. November 2010. www.thecattlesite.com/articles/2540/cattle-dehorning-and-alternatives-in-the-eu
  2. AVMA Backgrounder: Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle. January 28, 2010.
Disbudding and Dehorning

Topics: Disbudding, Dehorning Methods