At the annual meeting of the American Dairy Science Association this summer, researchers from Purdue University presented preliminary findings from a project that investigated the cost of using polled genetics versus dehorning.
The costs were modeled in a mathematical simulation to determine how much money could be spent on semen from a polled bull. Inputs for the model included dehorning costs ranging from $5 to $15 with a most likely value of $7 per animal. The additional cost for polled genetics (over and above the cost of semen from a bull with horns) ranged from $0 to $20, with a most likely value of $8.
Treatment costs and the likely need for treatment were also included as follows: cost of treatment ranged from $10 to $150, with a most likely cost of $50; the likelihood that an animal would need to be treated was 1 to 8% for dehorned and 1 to 3% for polled, the most likely values were 3% and 2% of animals for dehorned and polled. These inputs were simulated in a model that selected combinations of the various inputs 10,000 different times and reported an average value for the simulation.
The expected costs for dehorning in this model ranged from $5.84 to $22.89, with an average of $11.79. For polled genetics, the range was $0.47 to $22.50, with an average of $10.73. On average, the model showed farms could spend an additional $7.50 for polled genetics and break even with the average costs of dehorning.
Of course, the actual breakeven value for an individual herd will vary depending on the actual costs for dehorning and the current breeding program. However, this simulation provides interesting food for thought, as the average costs for the two options were quite similar, perhaps more similar than one would expect. This model did not consider that avoiding dehorning may have some potential benefit in reduced stress on calves or explicitly account for differences in the genetic potential of polled versus horned sires.
In addition, public perception of the use of dehorning, a desire to avoid an unpleasant task, or availability of polled bulls may also affect a farm's decision to use polled genetics.