Dehorning is a management activity which involves the removal of horn buds or horns from horned cattle. The reasons in favour of dehorning include the reduction in injuries to livestock, reduced carcase bruising and hide damage prior to slaughter, horned cattle are harder to work through cattle yards and crushes and pose a risk to themselves, other cattle and livestock handlers. There are often price incentives associated with the sale of polled cattle and as Australian agriculture continues to negotiate animal welfare requirements, the process of dehorning is and will come under increased scrutiny.
Dehorning is best performed prior the horn bud’s attachment to the skull which occurs around 2 months of age. Weather conditions can play an important role in minimising complications and dehorning, where possible, should be performed in cool dry weather. As age increases the likelihood of complications increases due to the increased size of the wound and blood loss. Dehorning can be completed up until 6 months of age without any large risk of complications. However, for cattle over 6 months and adults, where the horn is now firmly part of the skull, dehorning can be quite painful and it is recommended that veterinary intervention and the use of local anaesthesia is appropriate. The recommended techniques of dehorning are briefly outlined below;
- Gas disbudding – a hot iron is used to burn and permanently damage the horn forming tissue around the base of the horn bud, this is best performed in the first 2-3 months
- Dehorning knife – the knife can be used to remove the horn bud from the side of the head, the important aspect is to use the knife before the bud attaches to the skill, hence should only be used in the first 2-3 months
- Scoop dehorners – are used to scoop out the horn bud or horn and the surrounding tissues, this tool will work well in calves up to 6 months of age.
- Cup dehorners – work in a similar manner to scoop dehorners, but probably more appropriate in larger animals, again appropriate up until 6 months.
- Horn tipping with implements such as guillotine dehorners, surgical wire, tippers or a horn saw may be performed in adults, but for the purpose of horn tipping only.
The breeding of polled cattle and using polled bulls in horned cow herds is recommended as the best long term approach to the reduction of horn associated issues. At HVC we can offer dehorning in cattle under 6 months using either scoop dehorners or our new gas disbudder in calves under 2-3 months. Surgical options with local anaesthesia are available for older animals.