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Timing and method is everything for dehorning and castration
Laura Mushrush, Assistant Editor, Drovers CattleNetwork

When it comes to castration and dehorning procedures practiced by beef and dairy producers, timing is crucial to insure animal welfare and effectivness, says the new Cattle Castration and Dehorning Guidelines published by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP).

“Ideally, castration should be performed by 120 days of age. However, purebred operations may delay the procedure further to allow appropriate time for the selection of future bulls, in which case the appropriate recommended procedures and pain mitigation practices should be used,” says AABP guidelines.

While it is possible to perform both procedures as needed within the first 24 hours of a calf’s life, if the excess handling is going to cause added stress to the calf and jeopardize its immune system, then waiting for a later time is advised. Early dehorning is recommended to be done before the base has reached a diameter of 1 inch. Once it has passed this size, producers are advised to cut the tips of the horns only if it is necessary. However, producers are encouraged to utilize polled genetics if possible to avoid having to use dehorning practices.

“These new guidelines for castration and dehorning represent our combined view on the best approach to be taken for performing these procedures, melding science where it exists with sound judgment and commonsense where science is less clear, accepting that the veterinarian of record for the farm is likely the best person to ultimately determine the most appropriate combination of procedures,” says AABP Past President Dr. Nigel Cook, University of Wisconsin.

To dehorn during the first couple days of a calf’s life, a caustic paste is a very effective, but caution is advised.

“When using caustic paste, care must be taken that the calf will not rub the paste onto either its dam or other herd-mates, and will be protected for at least 24 hours from rain or other moisture that may cause the paste to run,” states AABP guidelines.

Other methods include the mechanical use of “small Barne’s type dehorners” to cut or scoop the horn. If a horn is already well-developed, AABP urges producers not to use elastic banders or guillotine dehorners.

Whether it is a young calf or developed bull, AABP recommends producers to consult a veterinarian to determine in surgical removal or a rubber castration band is advised for the producer’s environment.

“These new guidelines accept that these are painful procedures where pain mitigation is a priority,” says Cook. “They provide the most up-to-date recommendations for the use of different procedures for castration and dehorning, the use of local anesthesia and the use of long-acting pain relieving pharmaceuticals.”

For the full guideline outline, including the use of restraint and local anesthesia, click here.


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