Horn Talk Blog

Dehorning Adds Value in Preconditioning Programs

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Jun 16, 2011

The purpose of a preconditioning program is to maximize calf value, mainly by boosting immunity, enhancing performance through subsequent production stages and improving carcass quality. Most major calf preconditioning programs now recommend dehorning along with vaccination, castration and other management practices. It’s easy to see why. Market surveys from across the United States show dehorning adds significant value at sale time:

  • A 2005 Arkansas livestock market survey found polled/dehorned feeder calves sold for an average of $3.70 per hundredweight more than horned cattle.1

  • Reports from Eastern Oklahoma show polled/dehorned cattle sold for $3.23/cwt more than horned cattle (Cattle Business in Mississippi, 2009).2

  • Reports from southeastern states estimate that polled/dehorned calves sell for $1.50 to $2.00/cwt more than horned calves (CBM, 2009).2

Higher carcass quality is one of the main reasons dehorned cattle command price premiums like these. Audits have shown horned cattle can have twice as many bruises than hornless cattle, and that bruises are mostly to the rib, loin, round and other costly cuts.3 According to the 2005 National Beef Quality Audit, the percent of cattle without horns passing through packing plants is the highest it’s ever been, at 78 percent.4 Not coincidentally, the percent of animals without bruises is also the highest it’s ever been, at 65 percent.4

There are at least two ways you can make the most of the dehorning premium in your operation:

  • Practice early-age disbudding, which minimizes stress on the animal and reduces production losses associated with invasive, mechanical dehorning at a later age.

  • Participate in preconditioning programs that incorporate dehorning in their calf management protocols, such as Merial’s SUREHEALTH program.

How do you incorporate dehorning in your calf preconditioning program?


  1. Jeremy Powell. Preconditioning Programs for Beef Calves. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. http://www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-3074.pdf
  2. Justin Rhinehart. Dehorning: Economically Important But Often Overlooked. Cattle Business in Mississippi, 2009. http://msucares.com/livestock/beef/stocker_sep2009.pdf
  3. Fred M. Hopkins, et al. Dehorning Calves. Agricultural Extension Service, University of Tennessee, PB 1684. http://www.tnbeefcattleinitiative.org/pdf/production/PB1684.pdf
  4. National Beef Quality Audit 2005. http://meat.tamu.edu/nonconform/belknbqa.pdf
Dehorn Calves Early

Topics: Research, Preconditioning Programs, Dehorning Methods