A guide to dehorning cattle

Vet's vision
with Phil Rennie
Tauranga Vets

A number of changes have been made in recent years in New Zealand to improve animal welfare across a range of species, in particular with significant surgical procedures for our stock.

With the bedding in of last year’s new legal requirement, all cattle being disbudded/dehorned now require an appropriately-placed and effective local anaesthetic that is authorised by a veterinarian for the purpose of the procedure. This is true for all methods of horn tissue removal including hot iron cautery, scoop dehorning, amputation (guillotine) dehorning, and caustic paste.

In addition to this, anyone disbudding/dehorning must be experienced with, or have received training in, the correct use of the method being used; and be able to recognise early signs of significant distress, injury, or ill-health so that prompt remedial action is taken or seek advice.

The three options available moving forward are:

  • Veterinary staff can perform the procedure of disbudding/dehorning.
  • Veterinary Operating Instructions, known as VOIs, can be provided for local anaesthetic for non-veterinary providers to proceed.
  • Disbudding training and assessment for veterinarians to train non-veterinary/farm personnel to effectively administer local anaesthetic, and disbud calves. For example, farmers who disbud their own calves will need to be trained by their veterinarian to administer a local anaesthetic block.

Pain relief is essential for disbudding and improves recovery. Training is required before administering local anaesthetic. The most common methods of administering local anaesthetic are via cornual and ‘bleb’ nerve blocks. The process requires patience, technical competence and practice to be consistently effective.

Where the traditional corneal, aka horn, block has been used, the bleb block is an alternative method of achieving pain relief – it’s quicker and consistently effective. Local anaesthetics available in NZ last about two hours, so a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or long-acting topical anaesthetic can be used to extend pain control.

Feel free to contact your local vet clinic for further details and assistance.


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