Horn Talk Blog

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