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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Weeman

Dehorning Guidelines

Dehorning is a necessary procedure to enhance both the communal welfare of the herd and the safety of individuals who work with animals in the herd.

Dehorning should be performed on calves within the first 6 weeks of life, and before the base of the horn grows beyond the diameter of 1 inch. Note that the tip of the horn (above the hair) is much smaller than the base of the horn; age is a better determinant of when to dehorn.

Disbudding of sheep and goats prior to one ten days of age is the preferred method and will result in easier application of the process for both the patient and the individual who performs the procedure.

There are a number of methods to facilitate dehorning: those recommended for routine use by your veterinarian may include the following:

1) Disbudding

2) Burning

3) Past dehorning

4) Barnes dehorning

5) Horn Tipping

1) Disbudding is a procedure that removes the tissue that will become horn. Skill is required to develop the technique and animals must be at a very young age (preferably 5 days or less), disbudding should not be performed on any animal over 2 weeks of age. If not proficient, disbudding often leads to regrowth of scurs (partial horns).

2) Burning of the horns at a young age facilitates immediate removal of the horn. When done properly, the risks of infection, unnecessary trauma and pain are minimized. While goats should be done by 2 weeks of age it is possible to burn much older horns on cattle and prior to 8 weeks of age this is still considered disbudding.

3) Those who choose to paste dehorn should apply the paste to calves less than 48 hours of age. Calves should be separated from other animals to prevent them from rubbing the paste onto pen mates. Calves should be kept dry following paste application to prevent the paste from running. Dehorning paste can cause burns of the eyes, tongue and skin when inappropriately applied. A common misconception is that paste is not painful, it is, and it burns tissue to which it is applied, generally for 2-3 days. Your veterinarian at Bayside Bovine Veterinary services does not defer to milk cooperatives, activists or any other entity claiming to know what is best. As the expert on animal welfare, your veterinarian is happy to meet with and develop a strategy that will satisfy the needs of every producer, cooperative and ensure the dehorning practices are successfully and safely implemented with the highest standards for humane application.

4) Barnes, or scoop dehorning, is an optional method but really should not be routinely employed. Scooping the horn opens the sinus cavity, which makes infection more likely. Additionally, there is generally more bleeding with this procedure and fly control (during the warmer months) is a concern.

5) Other methods such as wire cutting for very large horns should be reserved for the veterinarian and should not be required frequently. The practice of horn-tipping to blunt the end of a sharp horn, preventing injury to people and animals, can be applied to large horns without subjecting the animal to significant discomfort or risk of infection.

Using bands and guillotine dehorners is not recommended.

All animals must be appropriately restrained for dehorning: chemical restraint, halters, chutes and headlocks are acceptable.

All animals being dehorned experience pain: a local

lidocaine block should be applied to each horn 5-30 minutes prior to dehorning (including with paste). Your veterinarian is happy to show the technique. In addition to a local block, it is advised (especially with paste) that producers administer systemic pain medications for 1 or 2 days following dehorning. Your veterinarian can discuss with you the options for facilitating this easily and efficiently.

AABP Dehorning Guidelines
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