There has been a noticeable increase in the use of pain relief for disubudding calves in Australia.
This trend is backed up by research that shows pain relief for disbudding not only reduces pain and recovery time in calves, but also boosts growth rates.
Mr Smith, who milks around 150 cows at his farm at Brogo, just outside Bega, was tired of the dangerous process of dehorning heifers and was keen to take up an offer from a local vet to disbud his young stock with pain relief.
Mr Smith said he saw the benefits from a process that was less painful and less disruptive than dealing with much larger, older animals.
“We used to do them when they were about six to 12 months, because they had a bit of horn to work with,” he said.
“We would get thrown around and it was ending up hurting us as well as the animals.”
Mr Smith said he had read about research that showed calves that received pain relief before disbudding went on to achieve higher growth rates.
Research by Massey University (New Zealand) in 2015 and 2016 found calves that received pain relief before disbudding went on to achieve higher growth rates.
They gained an average of 0.09 kilograms more per day for the next month, meaning they reached weaning weight about five days earlier than calves that didn’t receive pain relief.
“I have to say, after the disbudding, the bounce back of the calves is phenomenal,” Mr Smith said.
“They are up within an hour of the procedure, looking for a feed. It’s also more convenient to do it when they are younger, because when I go out to round up my heifers, I don’t have to be working with horned cattle.”
Dairy Australia has been working with farmers to encourage the disbudding of calves at six to eight weeks of age.