Dehorning Calves - In Public View?
On the last page of the most recent issue of Dairy Herd Management magazine (July 2014) Fred Gingrich, DVM, wrote about welfare issues and in particular I appreciated his short paragraph on dehorning.
I have done my share of calf dehorning - almost exclusively using hot-iron cauterization. My spouse always knew when I arrived at the house for supper whether or not dehorning had been on my schedule that day.
As we moved through the 1980's and 90's we gradually moved this event earlier and earlier in a calf's life. By the late 1990's we were pretty consistent in meeting our goal of three to four weeks of age. In my mind this was an improvement - get the job done early in life. And, yes, I know we could have considered using paste dehorning but we just didn't.
Have you every heard of "brutacain?" Back in the 1980's we used brute force to restrain 8-week-old calves and cauterized without any anesthesia. It got the job done but it was rough on both me and the calves.
I cannot recall exactly which year I started using a local anesthetic (Lidocaine) before cauterizing - sometime in the 1990's. What an improvement! Rather than this being a huge fight I was in danger of being licked to death.
The vet techs at our clinic use this procedure now. They have a whole bag of calf halters. They start by placing a halter on a calf to be dehorned. Then the Lidocaine is injected. On to the next calf until all ten or more calves are tied up and anesthetized. Normally, by the time this work is done the first calf is nicely numb. Recently research has demonstrated the benefits of additional medication to relieve post-cauterization discomfort as well.
This is Fred's take on the process from the consumer public point of view:
"If you cannot dehorn while being videotaped for the world to see, perhaps you should be doing it differently."
If you cannot meet this standard he advises talking with your veterinarian about improving your dehorning protocols.