Early Dehorning Advised

CANADA - Producers are strongly advised to dehorn calves as early as possible for two reasons, says the Government of Alberta.
calendar icon 28 January 2011
clock icon 2 minute read

First, the procedure is less invasive in newborn calves, so growth performance is not affected as much. Second, common sense and science both say that removing an established horn from an older animal is much more painful than removing the unattached horn bud from calves.

In some countries, older calves can only be dehorned by a veterinarian using anesthetic and anti-inflammatory drugs. The problem is that most of these injected drugs wear off after a few hours. So while these drugs may make dehorning easier for the operator (the animal likely struggles less if it doesn’t hurt as much), they might only delay the pain for the animal. The added cost and lack of long-term pain relief have limited the use of these drugs. In-feed anti-inflammatory drugs may provide more effective and longer-term pain relief, but none of these products have received regulatory approval in Canada.

The other way to dehorn cattle is to use polled genetics. A perfectly reliable DNA test for the horned/polled gene has not yet been developed, but most breeds do have polled bloodlines. A pair of Canadian studies published in 1996 and 1998 found miniscule difference in backfat depth between horned and polled bulls, but no differences in birth, weaning or yearling weight, pre- or post-weaning growth rate, scrotal circumference, carcass weight, marbling score, ribeye area or lean meat yield. This has not entirely stopped the passionate debate about pendulous sheaths and other relative merits of horned vs. polled cattle, however.

The Beef Research Cluster is funded by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to advance research and technology transfer supporting the Canadian beef industry’s vision to be recognized as a preferred supplier of healthy, high quality beef, cattle and genetics.

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