Horn Talk Blog

Top 5 Producer Concerns About Using Caustic Dehorning Paste

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, May 12, 2011

Caustic Dehorning PasteWhenever I ask dairy or beef producers why they don’t use caustic paste to dehorn their animals, I tend to hear the same responses over and over. Here are the top five producer concerns – and my responses – when it comes to not using dehorning paste:

  1. “Caustic paste isn’t as effective as other dehorning methods.”

    When used according to label directions, in calves eight weeks of age or younger, paste can be just as effective as a hot iron in destroying horn-producing cells (view a video of the correct technique). It’s true that paste won’t work on developed horns in older animals; neither will a hot-iron at this stage. But, if you still have any doubts about the effectiveness of caustic paste, please read these recent guest blogs from the owner of a heifer-raising facility and an extension veterinarian.

  2. “I heard about a calf that was blinded by caustic paste.”

    Eye ablation can occur under rare circumstances when: a) paste is improperly applied, and b) the calf is let out into rain or snow before the paste has dried. That’s why dehorning paste manufacturers recommend applying a protective barrier of Udder Balm or petroleum jelly in a ring around the outside of the application area, and using only a nickel- or quarter-sized amount of paste (depending on the age of the animal). We also recommend keeping treated animals indoors, out of rain, for six hours to allow the paste to dry. These two simple steps will effectively prevent virtually 100 percent of eye injuries in treated calves.

  3. “I’ve heard you can’t let calves nurse after they’ve been treated with caustic paste.”

    This one is true – to a point. Treated calves should remain isolated from all other animals, including their dams, for six hours after treatment. Some cow/calf producers know this and wait until after the calf has nursed before they apply dehorning paste. Again, this kind of incident can easily be prevented simply by following label directions.

  4. “Dehorning paste is just too much trouble for me.”

    Compared to herding the animal into a squeeze chute and scooping out the horns with a Tube or Barnes dehorner, or chopping them off with a keystone dehorner, disbudding with caustic paste is indeed a slower, more methodical process. But it’s no slower than holding a hot iron to the calf’s head for several seconds, and significantly less likely to result in blood loss, injury or infection. With paste, there’s no need for a squeeze chute or extreme physical restraint. In fact, if paste is applied to very young calves, bloated and sleepy after a meal, only very light restraint (if any) may be necessary.

  5. “My current dehorning method works just fine.”

    I totally understand the desire to stick with an effective management practice, especially if you’ve never experienced an injury to calf or crew, or an animal performance issue related to dehorning. But times are changing. As I noted in a previous blog, some veterinarians are already predicting analgesia will be required for dehorning five to 10 years. Meanwhile, consumers are putting increasing pressures on our industry to adopt more humane animal management practices. These pressures will inevitably result in new industry initiatives and audit programs.  

Now is the time to get ready. Now is the time to start exploring alternative, less invasive means of horn removal. Because, to paraphrase Charles Darwin, it’s not always the strongest who survive, but the ones most responsive to change.

What are your concerns about using caustic dehorning paste?

CY Heifer Farm

Topics: Dehorning Paste, CY Heifer Farm, Caustic Paste, Barnes Dehorner

How Caustic Dehorning Paste Works

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Apr 14, 2011
Dehorning PasteDehorning paste typically contains two caustic substances: calcium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide. When applied to the horn bud, the paste causes a chemical burn that destroys horn-producing cells. A thin film about the size of a nickel is all that’s required. When horn-producing cells are destroyed, horns don’t grow. It’s as simple as that.

Make no mistake: caustic paste is strong stuff. You definitely don’t want it running out of the application area (into the eye, for example), or getting onto other animals – or on you! That’s why it’s important to apply a protective ring of Udder Balm or petroleum jelly around the horn bud prior to application; wear gloves during application; and keep the animal indoors, out of rain and away from other animals, for six hours.

You may also want to consider administering a topical anesthetic or sedative beforehand. Although paste disbudding has been shown to be less painful than hot-iron disbudding, it is still uncomfortable. On the other hand, don’t be alarmed if the animal doesn’t react to dehorning paste application. One of our guest bloggers, Jeanne Wormuth of CY Heifer Farm, usually dehorns 3 to 5-day-old calves when they’re relaxed after a big meal. She tells us some of the calves actually sleep right through the procedure.
What have been your experiences with caustic dehorning paste?

Topics: Dehorning Paste, CY Heifer Farm, Caustic Paste, Disbudding, Jeanne Wormuth

"Paste Those Horns Away and It's Easier for You Both" (American Agriculturist - July 2010)

Posted by Dave Lucas on Tue, Feb 15, 2011

"Paste Those Horns Away and It's Easier for You Both" (American Agriculturist - July 2010) is authored by Linda Greenwood from Greenwood Dairy, Canton, NY.

Greenwood has been using dehorning paste for five years and does more than 600 calves a year. She writes, "... if you follow the directions that come with it [the dehorning paste], you'll be pleased with the results." Read the full article ...

Topics: Dehorning Paste, CY Heifer Farm, How-To Dehorn Calves, American Agriculturist, Linda Greenwood, Dehorning Methods

Why Paste Disbudding is Preferred at CY Heifer Farm

Posted by Dave Lucas on Tue, Jan 11, 2011

Jeanne WormuthFor today's blog post, Jeanne Wormuth, Manager, CY Heifer Farm shares her insights and experiences dehorning calves.

CY Heifer Farm raises 4,000 calves for 10 dairies in central and western New York. Jeanne began working as operations manager at the heifer farm 12 years ago when it was owned by Agway. CY Farms, owned by Craig Yunker, purchased the heifer facility in 1995.




By Guest Blogger: Jeanne Wormuth, Manager, CY Heifer Farm, Elba, NY

I’ve been raising dairy replacement heifers at our biosecure facility for more than a decade. We now dehorn about 2,000 calves each year. A few years ago, one of our employees accidentally burned herself while using a butane dehorner. We wanted a safer alternative, and our veterinarian suggested caustic paste. We decided to give it a try, and now all our calves are dehorned with paste.

Calves arrive at our farm when they’re around 3 days old. We apply the paste that same day, after they have eaten and are a bit sleepy. It’s obviously less stressful for them than the butane burner. Some shake their heads a bit, but many don’t react at all. There’s definitely less risk of injury to our employees – they just have to wear a pair of protective gloves.

Now, you do have to take your time and go through all the steps – shaving, brushing and application. You can’t take short cuts or speed it up. That’s probably the one disadvantage of this method compared to a hot-iron. But when you consider the improvements in employee safety and animal welfare, paste disbudding is definitely worth the extra steps.

Some farmers are reluctant to use dehorning paste because they think it doesn’t work. I’ve heard those rumors, too. But I’ve dehorned thousands of calves and can tell you if you use dehorning paste correctly, it is every bit as effective as a hot-iron. It’s definitely a lot less stressful – for both the calves and the crew!

Topics: Dehorning Paste, CY Heifer Farm, How-To Dehorn Calves, Hot-Iron Dehorning, Butane Dehorning