Horns on cattle can pose significant welfare issues and the best way to prevent these is to disbud or dehorn at an early age.
Horns in cattle can be a significant source of injury to cattle. There are special considerations that are relevant to the transport of horned animals. Because of these significant welfare issues, it is best management to disbud calves at an early age. However, occasionally it is possible that disbudding has failed and horns need to be removed at a later age. In beef herds it is often not possible to disbud calves because of management reasons.
With animal welfare being paramount, a change in law preventing calf disbudding and dehorning without the use of adequate pain relief were amended on 9 May 2021, the Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Amendment Regulations 2020. The amended regulations state:
A person must not dehorn a cattle beast unless throughout the procedure the cattle beast is under the influence of pain relief that is authorised by a veterinarian for the purpose of the procedure.
The owner of, and every person in charge of, a cattle beast must not allow the beast to be dehorned in breach of Subclause (1).
A person who dehorns a cattle beast 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 the person can take prompt remedial action or seek advice.
The owner of, and every person in charge of, a cattle beast that is to be dehorned must ensure that the health and welfare needs of the animal are met during the procedure and recovery, by ensuring that at all times a person is available who—
has suitable equipment; and
has the relevant knowledge, has received relevant training, or is under appropriate supervision.
A person who fails to comply with Subclause (1) or (2) commits an offence and is liable on conviction—
in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding $5,000; or
in the case of a body corporate, to a fine not exceeding $25,000.
At VetEnt we provide a calf disbudding service to ensure horn buds are removed effectively at the correct time with minimal pain and discomfort to the animal. It is recommended that calves are disbudded between the age of 2 - 6 weeks as this allows for ease of handling, reduced stress levels, and minimal tissue damage.
With our sedation service there is the extra benefit of being able to check for and remove extra teats. Additionally, tagging, BVD/parentage ear notch testing and vaccinating can all be done whilst the calves are sedated.