The developing horns of dairy calves are typically removed to reduce the risk of injuries to farm workers or other cattle later in life. Horns of calves 3 months old or older are normally removed surgically (“dehorning”) by scooping, shearing or sawing. Horn buds of younger calves are typically removed (“disbudding”) using a caustic paste or a hot iron.
There is scientific evidence that all of these methods cause immediate pain and post-operative pain. The immediate pain can be reduced using a local anesthetic to provide a nerve block – this procedure has been used safely for decades and costs just pennies a shot.
Pain can persist 24 hours or more – this longer-lasting pain can be reduced using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like the ibuprofen you take for a headache). Providing calves a sedative before the procedure can reduce handling stress and make the procedure easier to carry out.
According to the most recent survey, only about 18 percent of dairy farms in the U.S. report use of pain-relieving drugs for disbudding or dehorning dairy calves, meaning that many calves receive no pain control. Is this OK? READ MORE