This affect is written to highlight the alternatives available to cow and dairy producers should they need to dehorn calves. As with all husbandry practices, painless alternatives such as breeding polled animals should be considered first.
Should dehorning be required it should be done as young as practicable. There are a number of methods available to dehorn young cattle.
- Can cause more severe injury to other cattle, especially in yards, feedlots and transport;
- Can damage hides and cause bruising which reduces the value of carcasses
- Are harder to handle in yards and crushes;
- Can be potentially more dangerous to handlers;
- Require more space at a feed trough and on cattle trucks;
- Are not as tractable and quiet to handle;
- May suffer discounts at sale especially if they are destined for feedlots
Methods of dehorning
Calves up to two months old
- On intensively managed properties, it is feasible to dehorn very young calves (up to two months old). Three methods are commonly used: hot iron, knife, and spoon or tube.
- Various hot iron dehorning tools are available, including wood fire heated, LPG heated, butane gas heated and 12- and 24-volt electric models. Generally these methods are best suited to calves up to about 8 weeks of age.
- A curved knife similar to a farrier’s knife (but without a hook on the end) can be used for dehorning.
- Start the cut about 2 cm away from the base of the horn, then draw the knife through the skin towards and through the horn, slicing off the horn level with the skull.
- This will remove an elliptical piece of skin with the horn in the Centre.
When to dehorn?
- Calves should be dehorned as early as possible.
- A tight calving pattern allows all calves to be de horned at a similar age, effectively and humanely.
- If the calving pattern is spread out, select groups of calves of similar ages for dehorning
- It is best to dehorn calves at less than three months of age.
- They suffer less stress because they are more easily handled, and the preferred methods cause little or no bleeding, heal quickly, and do not result in any significant setbacks.
- Cattle should be dehorned on dry cool days to allow the wound to dry quickly with the minimum risk of infection.
- The best time is late afternoon, when fly activity is usually low. Never dehorn cattle in wet weather, because the healing rate is decreased and the risk of infection increased.
Hygiene and care of equipment
- Before dehorning, sharpen the blades of all dehorning instruments on an oilstone
- Then disinfect them in a bucket of antiseptic solution.
- Disinfect dehorners also between calves.
- This will allow dehorning to be completed smoothly and cleanly, reducing stress on both the operator and the animal.
- Blades will need to be re-sharpened if they become dull.
Treatment after dehorning-
- After the operation, animals may bleed freely for a short time. Heat cauterizing of the wound of older calves is gaining acceptance as a means of reducing blood loss and drying out the wound.
- The application of a proprietary wound dressing powder (dusting powder) is often sufficient treatment; a powder that contains a fly repellent is recommended if dehorning in the warmer months when flies are a problem.
- Dehorning pads are available from many rural merchants. These are placed on the wound and reduce the amount of blood loss from the operation. The pads are left on the wound until they drop off with the scab.
- As stated on the Code of Practice, after dehorning, cattle should be inspected regularly for the first 10 days and any infected wounds treated