Although unpleasant, dehorning is a necessary procedure to prevent injury to humans and cattle.

Research conducted at the University of British Columbia Animal Welfare Program, and reported in the April Journal of Dairy Science, sheds more light on how to reduce pain and stress when dehorning calves. The researchers arrived at these two main findings:

  • Calves sedated with xylazine prior to dehorning with a caustic paste showed less pain response — fewer head shakes and head rubbing — than calves given both a sedative and a local anesthetic (lidocaine) prior to hot-iron dehorning. (Please see the figure below.)
  • A local anesthetic (lidocaine) given prior to caustic paste dehorning provided no evidence of pain relief in the hours after the paste was applied.

The study’s authors conclude that caustic paste dehorning with a sedative may be more humane, simpler and less invasive than hot-iron dehorning with a sedative and local anesthesia.