Horn Talk Blog

Is Paste Disbudding Really More Humane?

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Jul 21, 2011
We sometimes use the word “humane” to describe caustic paste disbudding in comparison to other, invasive methods of horn removal. Humane is not a synonym for painless, as all dehorning methods are painful. Rather, we use it to describe a procedure that’s been scientifically demonstrated to be less painful and distressful to the animal than other methods. Caustic paste disbudding is both effective and a more humane way to dehorn.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted two experiments to evaluate pain response (head shaking and rubbing) in Holstein heifer calves.1 In the first experiment, calves sedated with xylazine were dehorned with caustic paste, with and without a lidocaine nerve block. In the second experiment, the response to caustic paste dehorning with only a sedative was compared with hot-iron disbudding using both a sedative and a nerve block. The results, published in the Journal of Dairy Science, showed that caustic paste dehorning with a sedative was less painful than hot-iron dehorning with both a sedative and a local anesthetic. 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.”

Age of the calf may be a factor in the reduced pain response associated with caustic paste. Paste is typically used in calves less than eight weeks old, when horn buds are small and unattached to the skull. Unpublished experiments conducted at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College showed that hot-iron dehorning was less painful in younger calves (< 4 weeks) than older calves (6-10 weeks).2 In an article published in The American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) Proceedings, a University of Guelph researcher states, “With the possible exception of caustic paste, calves perceive and react to acute pain during dehorning, regardless of method, when no local anesthetic is used.”

For producers who pride themselves on their animal handling practices, paste disbudding is clearly the more humane choice.

Do you agree that paste disbudding is more humane?

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  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.

Topics: Research, Pain Relief, Caustic Paste