DCHA's Gold Standards III, animal welfare standards for rearing dairy calves and heifers, devotes a large section to elective medical procedures and supportive care.

It is important to perform procedures like dehorning, tattooing and castrating humanely. These procedures are necessary components of dairy calf and heifer rearing, but there are methods that can be employed to make these tasks as pain-free and stress-free as possible for the animals.  

The Gold Standards III covers employee training, animal restraint, minimizing stress, pain management and care and housing for convalescing animals in the section. Also included are age recommendations for various procedures.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) also has specific suggestions for humanely managing dehorning/disbudding of calves. In "Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle," the AVMA covers a broad range of considerations when performing the procedures, including:

  1. Physiological indicators of pain;
  2. Behavioral indicators of pain; 
  3. Prevention of secondary diseases; and 
  4. Production considerations.  

The AVMA document addresses methods of controlling pain, including:

  • Sedation
  • General anesthesia
  • Local anesthesia; and
  • Pre- and post-operative administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Another suggestion offered by the AVMA is to genetically select for polledness to reduce and eventually eliminate the need to dehorn. 

For more information on the Gold Standards, visit the DCHA website. Read the full AVMA document here.

Source: Dairy Calf & Heifer Association