This week's blog post is written by Dr. Aurora Villarroel, an Extension Veterinarian at Oregon State University. Dr. Villarroel's objective is to enhance the health of food animals in Oregon, especially ruminants. She currently teaches courses at the School of Veterinary Medicine related to cattle, sheep and goat medicine and surgery. Her research interests include veterinary epidemiology, herd health and production medicine, with special focus on dairy cattle. She is the recent author of "Dehorn Calves Early."
By Guest Blogger: Aurora Villarroel, DVM, MPVM, PhD, Dip.ACVPM, Extension Veterinarian, Department of Animal Sciences, Oregon State University
I have noticed that the caustic dehorning paste is rarely used in farms in the U.S., and I keep hearing dissatisfaction among dairy farmers that have tried it. I started using the paste in Spain more than 20 years ago, and in my experience it is the best dehorning method available, by far.
There are two things you need to pay attention to: timing and housing.
Timing: the secret for the dehorning paste to work well is to dehorn before two days of age! The main reason for this is that after two days of age, calves can figure out how to scratch their heads against something to rub the paste off, and they can stand on three legs to scratch with the other. Additionally, applying the dehorning paste immediately before feeding colostrum (preferably with a nipple) will reduce signs of pain. While the calves concentrate on nursing from the bottle, the paste will be working. Human doctors do the same thing with babies – distract them by making them nurse when they have to do procedures such as needle pricks to get blood samples.
Housing: calves need to be protected from rain for 24 hours after applying the paste. If rain falls over the active dehorning paste, there will be run off towards the eyes that can blind the calf.
Like with any other product, follow manufacturer directions (package insert); the amount of paste to apply on each horn is equivalent to a dime. Using too much paste is the most common mistake of beginners. It will result in big bald spot around the horn area, but the hair will grow back in a couple of months.
Clients who have switched to paste dehorning in newborn calves are very happy with the results: quick, simple and painless.