Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center 900 N Wabasha, Plainview, MN 55964 (507) 534-4356, 1-888-534-4026
Dehorning and castration are necessary procedures in the cattle business. We all know
that cattle have to be dehorned to protect animal and workers. We also know markets demand meat from steers, and that young bulls can be dangerous to humans. Our industry is coming
under more and more scrutiny by the public and popular media, and non-farmers often do not
understand the necessity of these procedures. Non-farmers tend to think of animals differently
than those of us that work with these creatures every day. Dr. Jennifer Walker, a veterinarian
at Dean Foods recently pointed out that consumers do not expect us to treat our cows like pets,
but that they do want to know that we know how to treat animals humanely, and that we are
doing our best to do so. Historically, this has not always been the case with dehorning and
castration, but our industry has worked hard to minimize pain and suffering that these
procedures may cause. Here are some ideas and tips on how you can do this in your herd.
Most dairy cattle and some beef cattle are not born polled unfortunately. Dehorning has
been accomplished by many different methods. Clearly, one wants to perform this procedure to minimize pain and suffering as much as is reasonable. Here are some tips: Start small. Dehorning should be done at as young an age is practical. Usually horn buds can be palpated at birth or within a few days. Use adequate restraint. Many of you use the EZ BZ calf restraint or a similar device. Having the animal well restrained will shorten the duration of the procedure and will help ensure that complete removal is accomplished. Use the smallest device appropriate for the size of the calf. This helps minimize pain and trauma. Acceptable methods in baby calves include electric or butane cattery, small tube gougers, or dehorning paste. Use a local nerve block if at all possible. Even paste dehorning causes significant pain, and it may last for hours after application. It is possible to nearly eliminate acute pain from dehorning with a properly placed corneal nerve block. It takes only a few pennies’ worth of anesthetic and is a very simple procedure. Here is how to do it:
1. Properly restrain the calf. 2. Draw a line from the lateral canthus (where the upper and lower eyelids meet at the
back of the eye) to the horn bud, and find the groove that runs parallel to and just below the bony crest along this line.
3. Find the half way point between the lateral canthus and the horn along this groove
and inject 2cc of Lidocaine through a 20 gauge x 1” needle angled slightly toward the horn. The needle should be inserted up to the hub. Pull the needle out halfway and then push it in to the hub again and inject another 2cc lidocaine.
4. Repeat on the other side. 5. Wait 3-5 minutes for anesthesia to take effect. While waiting, one can restrain and block another calf before dehorning the first calf.
This is also a good time to clip the skin with a clippers if available. On older calves, one may have to double the amount of Lidocaine, and add a second injection slightly caudal (toward the rear) to the first. We can demonstrate the block technique.
Paste dehorning is an often overlooked method that is easy and effective. Calves should
be very young, ideally less than 2 days old, because older calves figure out how to scratch
Volume 67, page 2 Dairy Details
their heads on things to rub the paste off, or to use a back leg. It is important to clip the
area before applying paste, and applying a ring of Vaseline around the bud first will keep the paste from oozing away from the horn bud. The amount of paste to apply is about the size of a dime. Do not let calves get wet for 24 hours, if possible, because paste can run down the face or into an eye.
Research has shown that using a local block can eliminate much of the pain and stress
of dehorning, but not all. As the analgesia wears off, in minutes, the pain returns and calves
will feel stressed. Recently, Meloxicam, an non-steroidal analgesic has been tested for longer
analgesic has been
term control of pain associated with dehorning. Calves are given one small tablet of
tested for longer term
Meloxicam per 35 pounds body weight up to 12 hours prior to dehorning either crushed in
control of pain
milk, or given orally. Meloxicam is eliminated very slowly by cattle, so pain control peaks at
about twelve hours post administration and lasts for at least 48 hours in cattle. Meloxicam is
dehorning. Calves are
not approved by the FDA for cattle, but use is allowed under the federal AMDUCA act. We
given one small tablet
of Meloxicam per 35
Older calves pose greater challenges. Fortunately many beef animals are polled, but
pounds body weight
up to 12 hours prior to
for older horned beef or dairy calves, additional analgesia and sedation, typically with
Xylazine is appropriate. The best solution, when possible is dehorning at an early age. For
crushed in milk or
more information about the animal welfare implications of dehorning see:
eliminated very slowly
by cattle, so pain
control peaks at about
All methods of castration cause pain, but pain can be minimized by performing this
twelve hours post
procedure at a very young age. Ideally calves should be less than seven days old. Local
anesthesia can be applied by injecting Lidocaine into the tip of the scrotum and into the
lasts for at least 48
spermatic cord at the base of the testicles. As in dehorning, for this to be effective on has to
wait for a few minutes before proceeding. This is typically not done when calves are restrained in a chute because the delay is unacceptable. Surgical castration or crushing cause substantial acute pain, while elastrator bands cause less immediate pain, but more chronic pain. Elastrator bands in older calves have been shown to have some pain response for up to ten weeks post calving. Older calves have also been shown to have greater reduction in daily gain following any method of castration than very young calves. Meloxicam can also be used when castrating to reduce pain for up to 48 hours following the procedure.
Merial has just announced the release of Zactran, a new antibiotic for treatment of
respiratory disease in non-lactating cattle. The active ingredient, gamithromycin, is a macrolide antibiotic that is effective for seven days following injection. Other common drugs in the macrolide category are erythromycin, tilomicin (Micotil) and tularomycin (Draxxin). Macrolide antibiotics tend to be very effective on common lung pathogens in cattle, partially because they distribute well into lung tissue following injection. Zactran requires a fairly low dose of 2cc per 110 pounds of body weight, administered subcutaneously. It looks like it will be another effective product in our arsenal of pneumonia treatments. It is not, however, labeled for female dairy cattle over 20 months of age.
Northern Valley Dairy Prod
uction Medicine Center, 900 N Wabasha, Plainview, MN 55964 (507) 534-4356,
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