Horn Talk Blog

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