Keep clear of horns - Cattle dehorning guidance

Vet's vision
with Phil Rennie
Tauranga Vets

Several changes made in recent years in New Zealand are improving animal welfare across a range of species, in particular with significant surgical procedures for our stock.

For the past two years it’s a legal requirement that all cattle being disbudded/dehorned will need ‘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. Regardless of breed, age or size of horn, this intervention should be afforded to all cattle as a matter of course. Local injection when applied correctly, should alleviate pain as we would expect during a visit to the dentist.

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 (disbudding/dehorning),
  • Veterinary Operating Instructions 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, ie: 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 cornual (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 New Zealand 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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