Dehorning of cattle and disbudding of calves

Dehorning of cattle and disbudding of calves

Policy type: Policy
: 5h
: Current
Date ratified
: May 2018



The NZVA considers that dehorning and disbudding of cattle are necessary farm practices, but, as painful procedures, require the use of appropriate analgesia.



Horned cattle, particularly when confined during mustering, yarding and transport, are capable of causing severe injury to other cattle and to handlers, including significant hide damage. There are also limitations on the transport of horned animals, so natural or artificial polling is therefore desirable.

While, under the Animal Welfare (Painful Husbandry Procedures) Code, analgesia must be used when dehorning cattle over 9 months, use of analgesia is a recommendation rather than a minimum standard for disbudding and dehorning of cattle under 9 months.

The NZVA believes that pain, tissue damage and distress caused by such procedures necessitate the use of pain relief and that a combination of local anaesthetic with a systemic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug has been shown to provide the best result. The use of products with label claims for disbudding and dehorning is recommended.

Disbudding of calves is preferable to dehorning older cattle. There is less short-term distress if calves are disbudded with a cautery iron.



  1. Disbudding and dehorning should only be performed after effective “blocking’ of the cornual nerve with local anaesthetic.
  2. Disbudding should be carried out between one and six weeks of age.
  3. Disbudding using the cautery iron is the recommended method. Caustic paste is not recommended for disbudding in calves due to the possible chemical burning of skin and eyes. Calves can also lick the paste off each other causing chemical burns to the mouth. Scoop dehorning is also not recommended as it has been demonstrated to be more painful than the use of the cautery iron.
  4. All calves should be observed for a period of two weeks after disbudding to detect infections following the procedure.
  5. As well as local anaesthesia, appropriate long-acting analgesia should be given at the time of disbudding and dehorning.



Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the Process of Humane Disbudding of Calves (NZVA members can login to see the SOP in file below reference list).

Animal Welfare (Painful Husbandry Procedures) Code of Welfare 2005

Duffield TF, Heinrich A, Millman ST, DeHaan A, James S, Lissemore K. Reduction in pain response by combined use of lidocaine anaesthesia and systemic ketoprofen in dairy calves dehorned by heat cauterisation. Canadian Veterinary Journal 51, 283-8, 2010

McMeekan CM, Stafford KJ, Mellor DJ, Bruce RA, Ward RN, Gregory NG. Effects of regional analgesia and/or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory analgesic on the acute cortisol response to dehorning in calves. Research in Veterinary Science 64, 147-50, 1998

Stafford KJ, Mellor DJ. Disbudding and dehorning distress in cattle and its alleviation: A review of the literature. A report to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 2000

Stafford KJ, Mellor DJ, Todd SE, Ward RN, C. M. McMeekan CM. The effect of different combinations of lignocaine, ketoprofen, xylazine and tolazoline on the acute cortisol response to dehorning in calves. New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 51, 219-26, 2003

Sylvester SP, Stafford KJ, Mellor DJ, Brice RA, Ward RN. Behavioural responses of calves to amputation dehorning with and without local anaesthesia. Australian Veterinary Journal 82, 697-700, 2004


Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the Process of Humane Disbudding of Calves

NZVA members can access this SOP by logging into the NZVA website. After logging in it will appear as a file link below.


5h Disbudding, Dehorning documents

More InfoHide Info ]
Policy for dehorning of cattle and disbudding of calves, and standard operating procedure for for veterinarians for the process of humane disbudding of calves.
Item Name Posted By Date Posted
There are no files to display.