The preferred method on our farm to remove horns is horn disbudding.
Disbudding is when you stop the horn producing cells that are not yet attached to the frontal bone of the skull. So basically the little nub the calves are born with is just free-floating within the skin. We prefer to use Dr. Naylor’s Dehorning Paste.
Our veterinarian describes the cell growth of the horns to be much like the cuticle on our finger nails. They just keep growing. When you use the paste, the paste destroys those cells, thus stopping the growth of the horn. This is less painful and stressful on the calves.
This procedure can be done in three simple steps:
- Find the horn bud.
- Shave all the hair surrounding the horn bud.
- Apply the paste to the entire horn bud. The paste does the rest.
What about local anesthetic? I recently read an article that stated if horn disbudding is done within the first several days after birth local anesthetic is not needed. For me, it is better to just do it just in case it can ease any of the pain or irritation. When the weather is warmer, it is also important to use a fly spray that is designated for dairy cattle to protect the horn area from flies.
Why do we disbud or dehorn calves? The main reason is safety. It is to protect humans as well as other cows.
What happens if the paste doesn’t work and a horn grows anyhow? When we switched to using the dehorning paste, there was a learning curve. We had a few that we did not apply enough paste to the horn bud thus they grew a horn. Those heifers had to be dehorned this past month. Our vet dehorned them with clippers. He applied anesthetic, clipped the horn off and applied fly spray. The heifers that had that procedure done went on their way as if nothing even happened.
I would like to note that our farm has participated in the National Dairy FARM Program. Our farm as well as our procedures were found to be within the guidelines set for the absolute best possible way to handle these situations. I will leave you with this quote directly from the Animal Care Reference Manual:
“Disbudding and dehorning are preformed for the safety of cattle and their caregivers. For disbudding, a best practice is to complete this procedure at the earliest age possible, before eight weeks of age, following pain control protocols agreed upon by the dairy famer and the herd veterinarian. This procedure may include use of local anesthesia and/or longer-term pain management.”
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