Disbudding Calves 

Nip pain in the bud

Removing horn buds or horns is necessary to keep animals safe from each other, and for human safety. VetEnt provides a calf disbudding service which ensures horn buds are removed at the correct time, and without pain or discomfort to calves.

Disbudding should occur two to six weeks of age, to allow easier handling, reduced stress and minimal tissue damage, as the horn bud is free-floating in the skin over the skull at this age. As the calf grows, the horn bud attaches to the skull, and a small horn forms. Dehorning after the horn attaches to the skull increases the chance of significant pain and infection, with calves also harder to handle.

Best practice disbudding involves:

  • Sedation of all calves
  • Injectable local anaesthetic around the horn
  • Injectable pain relief in the neck
  • Hot iron cautery method



Sedation temporarily reduces the level of consciousness, preventing calves’ perception of pain, providing relaxation and reducing risk of injury to both calves and handlers. To administer local anaesthetic and safely disbud calves, sedation is preferable over physical restraint.


Pain relief

Pain relief MUST be used when disbudding, as per Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations 2020, Section 57 (Refer below for more info). Failure to do so can result in prosecution and fines.

Anaesthetics (loss of sensation) and analgesics (pain relief) target different pain pathways, and can be used individually or together.

Anaesthetic works fast, numbing the horn bud and surrounding tissues for about two hours, ideal for during the procedure.

Pain relief injected into the neck, provides longer term relief, benefiting in:

  • less pain and stress for the calf
  • faster recovery for the calf
  • calf reaches weaning weight sooner
  • calves easier to handle during disbudding


Metacam is an injectable non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that targets inflammation that causes pain. It has anti-inflammatory (reduces inflammation), analgesic (pain killer) and anti-pyretic (reduces fever) properties.

We strongly encourage disbudding with sedation, local anaesthetic and long-acting pain relief. This is better for the calf, is quicker and allows other procedures to be done at the same time, including removal of extra teats, vaccination, and checking navels (hernias and infection).Blood testing or ear notching for BVD, DNA and ear tagging can be done as extra services.

Choosing best practice disbudding will be included in your Fonterra Animal Wellbeing Plan or Synlait Lead With Pride documentation


Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Amendment Regulations 2020 came into effect 9 May 2021 in respect of calf disbudding. The amended regulations state: 

  1. A person must not disbud 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. 
  2. 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). 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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 $3,000; or 
    • in the case of a body corporate, to a fine not exceeding $15,000


Restricted Veterinary Medicine. Available only under Veterinary Authorisation. ACVM No’.s A7550