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

PETA Proposes an End to Dehorning

Posted by Dave Lucas on Fri, Jul 15, 2011

In an April press release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called on grocery chains, restaurants and dairy operations to adopt PETA’s “new” animal welfare guidelines for dairy farms to “dramatically improve the lives of cows and calves.” Among PETA’s new standards is an outright ban on dehorning, “in which cows have… their horns cut out of their skulls.”

First of all, I think it’s important to point out that dehorning does not necessarily involve cutting horns “out of [the] skull.” A calf’s horn buds don’t attach to the skull until around eight weeks of age. Until then, they are free-floating and can be easily and less painfully removed by the application of caustic paste or a hot-iron, with no cutting at all.

What PETA seems to object to is the practice of dehorning itself since it violates the “rights” of the animal. What PETA may not realize is the level of danger horned cows pose to other animals, including other cows, dogs and horses, not to mention human handlers. Horned cattle are more aggressive, more dangerous to handle and transport,1 and twice as likely as dehorned cattle to have bruises.2

The American Veterinary Medical Association, arguably the most credible proponent of animal health and welfare in the United States, has repeatedly voiced its support for the practice of dehorning, provided steps are taken to reduce pain and distress.

PETA might have more credibility with the dairy and veterinary communities if it encouraged the adoption of more humane methods of horn removal, such as early-age disbudding.

What do you think of PETA’s proposed welfare standards for dairy cattle?


  1. Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle. American Veterinary Medical Association. June 8, 2011. http://www.avma.org/reference/backgrounders/dehorning_cattle_bgnd.asp
  2. Temple Grandin. Bruise Levels on Fed and Non-Fed Cattle. Proceedings Livestock Conservation Institute. April 5-7, 1995. http://www.grandin.com/references/LCIbruise.html


Topics: AVMA Policy, Caustic Paste, Animal Welfare

What is the Most Ethical Dehorning Method?

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, May 19, 2011

“Ethical” is a word tossed around a lot lately in the animal welfare debate. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ethical can be defined as, “relating to ethics [the discipline of dealing with what is good or bad]”, “involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval” and “conforming to accepted standards of conduct”.

Let’s start with the issue of dehorning as “good” or “bad”. Some say “bad”, because it’s painful for the animal. However, vaccination is also a painful procedure. Few would argue that vaccination is “bad”, because it ultimately confers the benefit of disease prevention. Does not dehorning also confer the benefit of preventing injuries from horned herd-mates? According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dehorned cattle are less likely to suffer bruising, inflict injury to the udders, flanks or eyes of other cattle, or injure horses, dogs and handlers.1 Ultimately, dehorning benefits not only the animal that undergoes the procedure, but also all the other animals and humans it encounters throughout its life.

The issue, then, comes down to the ethics of the dehorning method itself. There are several ways to dehorn cattle, ranging from caustic paste disbudding in young calves to hand saw dehorning in mature animals. The pain inflicted on the animal, and the risk of injury posed by each of these methods, vary widely. Surveys tell us most dairy farmers use a hot-iron to disbud calves,2 while most cow-calf producers use Barnes or Guillotine dehorners.3 These methods would therefore seem to fit the definition of ethical as conforming to accepted standards of conduct. But just because a practice is widely accepted does not necessarily make it morally acceptable. And, accepted standards of conduct can change over time as we’re witnessing now in the animal welfare debate.

Is it ethical to dehorn animals with saws, tubes, knives, Barnes and other tools when other less painful, equally effective methods exist?

Is it ethical to perform dehorning – or any potentially painful animal management practices – without the use of pain relievers or sedatives?

What are your views of the ethics of dehorning?


  1. AVMA Backgrounder: Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle. January 28, 2010.
  2. Fulwider, W.K., et al. Survey of Dairy Management Practices on 113 North Central and Northeastern United States Dairies. J. Dairy Sci. 2008. 91:1686-1692.
  3. USDA APHIS, Veterinary Services, National Animal Health Monitoring System, October 2008. Reference of Beef Cow-Calf Management Practices in the United States, 2007-2008.

Topics: Pain Relief, Caustic Paste, Hot-Iron Dehorning, Barnes Dehorner, Dehorning Methods, Animal Welfare

Willet Dairy Now Disbudding Calves at a Younger Age

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Apr 7, 2011

The upstate New York dairy farm at the center of a storm of controversy over animal handling practices was determined by a team of state appointed industry experts to be operating above industry standards. While Willet Dairy exceeds standards for the health and treatment of animals, the farm has now changed some of its animal handling practices, including disbudding at a younger age and using an anesthetic.
Investigations by the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, Cayuga County, NY District Attorney’s Office and Finger Lakes Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found Willet Dairy to be operating above industry standards.

The Department of Agriculture & Markets concluded that the operation "surpassed the industry standards" set by the state "for hygiene, body condition and lameness, indicating a high level of animal care and welfare."

ABC News also reported the story.
How do you feel about Willet Dairy's decision to disbud calves at a younger age?

Topics: Disbudding, Willet Dairy, Animal Welfare

"Dehorn Calves Early" (Hoard's West - Nov. 2010)

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Feb 17, 2011

"Dehorn Calves Early" (Hoard's West - Nov. 2010) is authored by Aurora Villarroel, DVM, Assistant Professor, Rural Veterinary Practice, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University.

Dr. Villarroel says "... in my experience dehorning paste is actually the best [dehorning] method available. However, you need to pay attention to two things to make it work well: timing and housing." Her article includes a step-by-step paste dehorning process. Read the full article...

Topics: Dehorning Paste, Caustic Paste, Hot-Iron Dehorning, Barnes Dehorner, Dehorning Process, Dehorning Methods, Animal Welfare, Scoop Dehorner, Dr. Aurora Villarroel, Hoard's

Congratulations, Temple Grandin!

Posted by Dave Lucas on Wed, Jan 19, 2011

A tip of the hat to Temple Grandin, who was honored at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards after the HBO film based on her life won a best actress award for Claire Danes.

In her acceptance speech, Danes thanked Grandin for, “working with incredible zeal and devotion to illuminate mysteries about autism and animal behavior.” The biopic, Temple Grandin, was based on Grandin’s autobiography, Thinking in Pictures, about her experiences growing up with autism.

Dr. Grandin, as you may know, is an animal welfare activist credited with spearheading widespread reforms in livestock housing and handling. When it comes to dehorning, she has repeatedly recommended that calves be disbudded within the first few weeks after birth.

When she’s not designing livestock housing facilities or advocating on behalf of people with autism, Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. Hopefully, she is passing along the benefits of early disbudding to a new generation of livestock producers.

Topics: Temple Grandin, Disbudding, Dehorning Methods, Animal Welfare

Now's the time to talk about dehorning.

Posted by Dave Lucas on Wed, Dec 29, 2010

In 2008, when I was working on product development for an international milk replacer company, I had the opportunity to acquire the H.W. Naylor Company. This 80-year-old, upstate New York manufacturer of topical livestock medications is well known for its Udder Balm, antiseptics, hoof treatments and other products that improve animal hygiene and comfort. Having grown up on a farm, where I learned to do hot-iron dehorning, and having worked in the dairy business for more than 20 years, I was familiar with most “Dr. Naylor” products, but not its dehorning paste. So, like anybody buying a business, I did some research. What I found baffled and concerned me.

I was surprised to learn dehorning paste was among the least popular methods of horn removal among cattle producers. Dehorning is a necessary animal management practice, of course, and, aside from raising hornless (polled) animals, the vast majority of producers dehorn their cattle. But most choose hot-irons, saws, Barnes, keystone dehorners or obstetrical wire for this procedure. Why, I wondered, were these more invasive, labor-intensive methods preferred when paste seemed so much easier?

I was also frustrated by the scarcity of dehorning information on the Internet. Pulling together the various research papers, articles, guidelines, statistics and professional recommendations took many hours. If there was a central online clearinghouse for all things dehorning, I couldn’t find it.

Around the time I was researching the dehorning market, the animal welfare movement was gathering steam, particularly in respect to animal handling practices and food safety. Food, Inc., a blistering documentary on commercial farming, was playing in theaters. Several national food recalls were going on. The American Veterinary Medical Association was updating its Animal Welfare Policy regarding dehorning and castration. Then came the hidden-camera exposés of, among other things, dairy farm workers burning horns off animals that were clearly too old for that procedure. All these incidents only served to fan the flames of mistrust in a culture where 98 percent of people no longer have direct ties to agriculture.

I realized a product like Dr. Naylor Dehorning Paste – which offers a bloodless, yet effective method of horn removal – might be an attractive alternative for livestock producers looking to adopt more humane animal handling practices. And keep their farms off the evening news.

While I personally believe paste disbudding is the best method for horn removal, I feel it’s important for others to learn as much as possible about the management practice of dehorning and draw their own conclusions. I decided to launch dehorning.com in order to:

  1. provide a comprehensive, science-based resource for dehorning information for both cattle producers and non-farm audiences;
  2. stimulate active discussion about dehorning among producers, veterinarians, consumers, food retailers, researchers and anyone else interested in the subject; and
  3. educate producers and others about the benefits of disbudding calves at an early age as advocated by the American Veterinary Medical Association and many other organizations.

Clearly, if more producers start using dehorning paste, my company will benefit. But it’s even more important for producers and consumers to know the facts.

So, let’s talk horns.

What do you like or dislike about this Web site?

What would you like to see more of?

Topics: AVMA Policy, Dehorning Paste, Caustic Paste, Hot-Iron Dehorning, Dr. Naylor, Dehorning Methods, Animal Welfare