We have just disbudded half a dozen calves.

What is this farmer speak, you may ask.

It is the removal of the horn bud and horn producing tissue from a young calf.

And why is it necessary?

Horned cattle are a management issue: they certainly know when they have horns and can present a danger to both us when handling them and other stock. In my veterinary duties I have had to stitch-up cattle that have been gored by their horned contemporaries.

Dehorning is the process of removing the fully formed horn from older animals; this is a slightly more difficult procedure and more likely to result in regrowth. We therefore try to remove the early horn buds from calves less than 2 months of age – an easier and less stressful process all round.

Obviously the best method to have horn free cattle is to selectively breed them without horns – a polled animal. We are doing this slowly by using a polled bull.

The horned early born calves were disbudded several weeks ago before the danger of flies; there were however a few later born calves with horns.

The usual method is to use good but gentle restraint – the picture shows a very effective system that we have invested in. I then give two types of analgesia: firstly an aspirin-like injection to provide long-term pain relief; secondly a local anaesthetic much like you get at the dentist – I inject into the nerve that innervates the horn and thereby block the sensation to it.

Generally a hot iron (shaped to fit around the horn bud) is then used to burn out the anaesthetised horn bud and the surrounding horn producing tissue. An antibiotic spray is then applied, and fly repellent if necessary.

All went well barring the visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the middle of the procedure – no kidding, up a secluded farm track. I am not sure they caught Rob’s muttered curses about horns and the devil but they did not hang around much longer!


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