Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dehorning Dairy Calves

In recent years, dehorning cattle has come under fire. Some groups are calling for this practice to be banned. I want people to know there is a reason for every practice done on our farm and that reason is always centered on the comfort, health and safety of our animals. Calves are dehorned for their safety and to reduce risk of injury to the people who work with them. This is a common practice on dairy farms across the nation and has been for decades.

On our farm, we dehorn calves when they are between two and three months old before the horns are visible through the animals hair. This is referred to as “disbudding” because the horns are not developed. At this age, it’s a quick process that takes one or two minutes to perform and doesn’t require anesthesia. Shortly after the procedure, the calves are back to their normal routine of eating, drinking and relaxing.

At this time, we also administer two vaccinations; Bovi-Shield Gold 5L5 and Ultrabac CD. Just like I take my sons to the pediatrician for vaccinations to keep them healthy, we vaccinate our calves to protect them from disease and illness.

Last Saturday, my husband, Lad, one of our employees, Josue, and my sons, Garrett and Jack, dehorned and vaccinated a group of 26 calves at our dairy.

This is a calf prior to being dehorned - her horns are not developed
Lad explains to the boys how to bring the calves up one at a time
They lead one of the calves to the dehorning area
A calf enters the area where she will be dehorned and vaccinated
Lad places a halter on her head to restrain her during the process
Lad uses an electric calf dehorner
The process takes about one minute
Garrett draws a mark on her back with chalk when she's done
Josue administers the vaccinations
We use Bovi-Shield Gold 5L5 and Ultrabac CD
This is how a calf looks after being dehorned
Jack walks with one of the calves after the procedure
Almost immediately after the procedure, calves are drinking and eating again

Jack has a snack with a recently dehorned calf
All these recently dehorned animals are content and eating


  1. Thanks for posting. I've been wondering about this.

  2. Why does the, unfortunate, baby calf need to be so thoroughly restrained for this process?

    1. because hes not just going to stand there is he you idiot.

  3. Why is there no video of this process available to watch?

  4. Restraint is necessary to get this procedure done quickly, safely and avoid mistakes. I can think of a handful of times when I’ve had to restrain my sons when they were receiving vaccinations or having blood drawn by their pediatrician. It’s quicker and easier for the nurse to pull blood if my son’s arm is still. My boys don’t like to get shots or blood tests, but I believe it’s necessary for their health and it’s my responsibility as a parent to make sure my children are healthy and well cared for.

    It’s our responsibility as dairy producers to make sure our animals are well cared for. It’s also necessary for us to provide a safe working environment for our employees. The process of dehorning is done quickly and is for the good of the animal and the people who work with them. I’ve used pictures in my blog, but the Ohio Dairy Farmers YouTube channel has a dehorning video – check it out at http://www.youtube.com/user/OhioDairyFarmers/videos.

  5. Hi I was wondering how the dehorning looks and is medically in the dsys, weeks & months after it is done? Is it normal for it to scab then go all pusy under the scab?

  6. Thanks for the comment. Right after the dehorning process, there remains a scab the size of a nickel. There is no blood loss, the procedure is minimally invasive and animals return to normal behavior immediately. Within 3 weeks after the dehorning, you cannot see the scab anymore. We have never had to treat an animal with anti-inflammatory or antibiotics after having their horns removed.

  7. How do you know this procedure is not painful for the calf? Libby

  8. Hi Libby. The calf may experience discomfort for a few seconds during the procedure, but it is over quickly. Since animals can't communicate verbally, we must assess them via observation. After the calf is dehorned, she is back to her normal routine quickly. Within minutes, she will resume eating, drinking, relaxing and socializing. If the animal was experiencing pain, she would not resume normal activity.

  9. Animals with horns often pick and poke at each other. I would guess that there if the herd animals had horns, there would constantly be minor cuts and scratches in the herd, and throughout an animals life, it would have to heal worse injuries from other animals horns than the dehorning wound. Wounds in a herd in summer would lead to increased fly problems, not? Are there studies on injuries from horns vs. the dehorning 'wound' somewhere?

  10. Yes, dehorning significantly decreases the risk of injury to people and other cattle. I don’t know of any specific studies regarding injuries from horned vs. dehorned cattle. But the American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes that dehorning is a necessary management practice for human and animal safety.

  11. Thank you so much for this info. We recently bought our very first calves, and I've been wondering if we really needed to disbud them and whether it would be very painful for them.

    They're Angus-Holstein crosses, and at least one has little horn bumps under the skin. I don't want to risk injury to either them or us. You're info is very reassuring and has helped me decide to disbud them.

  12. We bought in a cow with very short horns a year or so ago which had been supposedly disbudded as a calf but the horns had grown back and were pressing against the side of her head and yesterday had to get the vet in to amputate her horns before they did some damage to her skull. It was not pleasant either for her even though she had been sedated and given anaesthetic but it was very necessary for her long term health and after seeing this would strongly recommend disbudding but doing it properly and we will be disbudding any calves that are born.

  13. Years ago I worked on a farm with horned cattle. I've seen the nasty gouge wounds they can give to each other, even just by mistake, and even one employee got gored once when an animal shook its head. She was alright, but spent some time in the hospital. It's much safer for the animals and people to disbud when they are small!

  14. thank you so much.this was very helpful.

  15. I don't see any anesthesia given to the calves prior to the dehorning procedure with the hot iron. Have you considered administering anesthesia to ease the calves' pain?

    1. The protocol we use requires each animal to be secured once. If we administered anesthesia it would require securing the animal twice; once for a shot then a second time for the disbudding/dehorning procedure. Handling and restraining them once instead of twice is better for the calves.

      The calves are very young when this procedure is done, so the horns are like small buttons. They are not developed horns yet. The animals don’t bleed during disbudding and the procedure is done very quickly.

      A potential downside to using a numbing agent is if the animal can’t feel the area is tender, she might rub her head against something because she can’t feel that area of her head. Then when the anesthesia wears off, she will have pain. It can also make the animal groggy and unresponsive which equals longer recovery time. We want her to be alert so she can eat, drink and get back to her normal routine.


Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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