Horn Talk Blog

Dehorning in Europe

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Jun 23, 2011
Last November, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, Animal Health and Welfare Directorate released a study on alternatives to cattle dehorning in the European Union. It provides a fascinating glimpse into food animal management practices overseas, highlighting some surprising similarities and differences between operations in Europe and here in the U.S.

Nearly 100 dairy and beef farmers in Italy, Germany and France were interviewed about their practices and attitudes toward dehorning. Compared to U.S. producers, farmers in Europe were slightly less likely to dehorn dairy cattle (approximately 80 percent hornless), and much less likely to dehorn beef cattle (less than 40 percent hornless).1

Most E.U. farmers prefer disbudding over dehorning. Hot-iron disbudding is the most used method, however, the use of caustic paste appears more frequent in the South and the Eastern member states. Surprisingly, most beef farmers in Europe prefer hot-iron disbudding, in contrast to U.S. beef producers, who mostly use mechanical methods. Reasons cited for disbudding as opposed to dehorning include ease for the operator and less pain and stress on calves.1

These findings are consistent with dehorning practices in other countries, including Canada, where the CVMA recommends disbudding in the first week of life, and New Zealand and Australia, where authorities recommend disbudding at the youngest age possible.2

Raising polled animals is an alternative explored in the study. Currently, the prevalence of polled cattle in Europe is very low, less than one percent for dairy and less than four percent for beef.1 European farmers have indicate they may be interested in polled bulls with high genetic merit, and the development of breeding programs for Holstein and Charolais cattle are underway.  Some negative traits have appeared in German Fleckvieh breeding programs, and more research is needed to determine if these are linked to the polled gene.

What do you find most and least surprising about dehorning practices in Europe?

  1. Cattle Dehorning and Alternatives in the EU. The CattleSite.com. November 2010. www.thecattlesite.com/articles/2540/cattle-dehorning-and-alternatives-in-the-eu
  2. AVMA Backgrounder: Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle. January 28, 2010.
Disbudding and Dehorning

Topics: Disbudding, Dehorning Methods

Managing Infection in Dehorned Calves

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Jun 9, 2011

Infection is a possible complication with any dehorning method, but is most often associated with invasive procedures that expose the sinus cavity and/or cause blood loss. The use of knives, tubes, Barnes (gouge) dehorners, keystone (guillotine) dehorners, obstetrical wire and saws all increase the risk of infection during dehorning.

Exposed sinuses attract disease-carrying flies, and numerous bacteria can be involved.1 The presence of flies or maggots in sinus cavities will be obvious, but other, more subtle signs of sinusitis can include lack of appetite, fever, nasal discharge and abnormal head carriage.1 Such infections can show up immediately after dehorning or even months later, after the wounds have healed.

Several diseases can be spread by dehorning instruments contaminated with blood from infected animals. Researchers at the University of California found that gouge dehorning significantly increased the risk of bovine leukemia virus (BLV) infection in dairy heifers.2 Conversely, not dehorning with a gouge dehorner reduced the risk of BLV transmission by up to 80 percent.2 Other diseases associated with contaminated dehorning equipment include anaplasmosis, bovine cutaneous papillomas3 and tetanus.3

Early-age disbudding with caustic paste or hot-iron, which do not expose the sinus cavities or cause blood loss, reduces the risk of BLV infection associated with dehorning.

If invasive dehorning methods are used, there are several management steps you should take to reduce the risk of infection in your operation:

  • Clean dehorning instruments with disinfectant between use on animals.

  • Make sure dehorning instruments are kept sharp. Try to cleanly cut bone tissue rather than crushing it, as crushed tissue may be more vulnerable to infection.

  • Dehorn outside of fly season or use fly deterrent.

  • Treat wounds with blood coagulant powder.

  • Monitor mechanically dehorned animals for signs of infection, such as lack of appetite, fever, abnormal head carriage and foul breath. If you see these signs, contact your veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis and treatment.

How do you control dehorning-associated infection in your operation?


  1. The Merck Veterinary Manual, 9th Edition, 2011.
  2. Marei-Liesse G. Lassauzet, et al. Effect of Brucellosis Vaccination and Dehorning on Transmission of Bovine Leukemia Virus in Heifers in a California Dairy. Can J Vet Res 1990; 54: 184-189.
  3. Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle. American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Division. January 28, 2010.

Become A Guest Blogger

Topics: Research, How-To Dehorn Calves, Caustic Paste, Hot-Iron Dehorning, Disbudding, Dehorning Methods

UBC Survey: Is Pain Relief Needed When Disbudding or Dehorning Calves?

Posted by Dave Lucas on Fri, May 6, 2011
Researchers at the University of British Columbia recently posted an online survey asking dairy producers and other industry folks about their attitudes toward dehorning and pain control. Participants are asked to provide their views on this question: “Should we provide pain relief for disbudding and dehorning dairy calves?

Responses are still coming in, but so far, it looks like the majority believe pain relief should be provided for reasons ranging from, “We have the responsibility to treat production animals as co-existent beings” (45%) to “It can make the procedure easier” (1%).

Respondents arguing against pain relief cite the risk of cattle eventually having “more rights than a human”, or veterinarians raising the price of their services.

We realize this survey doesn’t purport to represent a statistically significant sample of dairy producer attitudes toward dehorning and pain control. But we are nonetheless surprised at the disconnect between this online questionnaire and a Colorado State University study of 113 dairies showing only 12% of producers used anesthesia during dehorning, and less than two percent used analgesia (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).

What do you think accounts for discrepancy? Is it possible producer attitudes have undergone a dramatic shift toward dehorning and pain control in just a few short years? Are attitudes simply not a reliable indicator of actual management practices?

One thing is certain: We wouldn’t even be having this discussion a generation ago. Attitudes toward food animal production are slowly but inexorably changing among producers and consumers alike. Some veterinarians believe analgesia will be required for dehorning, castration and other management practices within the next five to 10 years.

What do you think?

Dehorn Calves Early

Topics: Research, Pain Relief, Disbudding, Dehorning Methods

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

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

New Website Dehorning.com Launches

Posted by Dave Lucas on Tue, Mar 8, 2011
Morris, NY (March 8, 2011) – With increasing public interest in farm animal handling practices, a new Website – Dehorning.com – has been launched to share science-based information and facilitate discussion about cattle dehorning. The Website is sponsored by H.W. Naylor Company, Inc.

“Consumers have shown a growing interest in how animals, especially dairy and beef cattle, are raised and cared for,” says David Lucas, president, H.W. Naylor Company, Inc., who grew up on a dairy farm. “When it comes to dehorning, however, there hasn’t been a place on the Internet for accessing credible research, articles and professional recommendations, and having a place to talk about it. That’s why we created dehorning.com.”

Dehorning.com provides:
  • An explanation of the difference between dehorning and disbudding.
  • Photos and information about various dehorning methods.
  • Dehorning and disbudding videos.
  • Access to research articles, which visitors can vote and comment on.
  • A blog about farm management practices and science-based research related to dehorning and early-age disbudding.
  • Answers to frequently asked questions.

Visitors to the site can subscribe to the blog via e-mail and RSS feeds, and join Facebook and Twitter pages. The site also invites producers, handlers, food retailers, veterinarians, researchers, academics and others with experience and interest in dehorning to become a guest blogger.

“I’ve been raising dairy replacement heifers at our biosecure facility for more than a decade and we now dehorn about 2,000 calves each year,” says Jeanne Wormuth, manager, CY Heifer Farm, Elba, NY. “Dehorning.com is a wonderful resource and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in how dairy cows and beef cattle are raised and treated.”

About H.W. Naylor Company, Inc.
Founded in 1926 by upstate New York country veterinarian Howard Naylor, the H.W. Naylor Company, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of topical medications for livestock, equine and companion animals. The company’s products, marketed under the brand name Dr. Naylor, include Dehorning Paste, Udder Balm and Hoof ‘n Heel. Learn more at www.drnaylor.com.


Dehorning.com Logo

Topics: Dehorning Paste, Disbudding, Dr. Naylor, Jeanne Wormuth, Dehorning Methods

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