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Ask a Vet: Dehorning methods and pain management

Armon Hetzel for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 October 2018
Calf in stall

Calves experience the least amount of stress when dehorned before they are 2 weeks old. For young calves, two dehorning methods can be used: paste and burning.

Dehorning with paste

  • Restrain the animal, clip hair overlaying the horn buds, and clean the area of hair and debris.

  • Wear gloves, and avoid contact with skin or other unprotected areas.

  • Apply paste to a nickel-sized area, covering the entire horn bud.

Note: The paste is effective when the calf is less than 3 days old. The chemical reaction that burns the horn to prevent growth needs a minimum of 0ºC to work properly. If in a group pen, calves may lick the paste, resulting in mouth trauma. Duct tape can be applied over the paste to prevent calves from rubbing it on other calves.

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Dehorning with a burner

  • Follow operating instructions for the dehorner to ensure proper temperature.

  • Restrain the calf; locate the horn bud; press the dehorner so the tip of the horn bud is centered in the dehorner.

  • Press down firmly, rotating the dehorner back and forth until it’s through the skin.

  • Make sure the skin is freed from the horn a complete 360 degrees.

Note: To ensure the horn is burned properly, gouge off the horn cap.

Pain Management

Pain management is necessary when using a dehorning method other than paste. Two options are a local anesthesia or an anti-inflammatory drug.

The University of Wisconsin-Extension Disbudding/Dehorning Dairy Calves fact sheet* lists lidocaine as an option for local anesthesia and meloxicam as an option for an anti-inflammatory.

Consult with your veterinarian on selection and proper use of these drugs to avoid harming your animals or causing a drug residue.  end mark

* Source:  Disbudding/Dehorning Dairy Calves

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PHOTO: Calf in a stall. Stafff Photo.

Armon Hetzel
  • Armon Hetzel

  • Professional Services Veterinarian
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