Horn Talk Blog

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