By Chelsey Johnson
Dehorning is a common practice for many feedlot operations. Producers have considered the practice an important part of production systems because of improved performance of cattle and improved safety of other cattle and animal handlers. Furthermore, some horned cattle receive discounted prices, and cows from horned groups have shown more bruising on carcasses than dehorned cattle.
Despite the benefits, dehorning can be a painful procedure that causes stress to cattle and impacts behavior after dehorning. A study reported in the May issue of the Journal of Animal Science (Neely et al.). was conducted to address these concerns and compare the effects of several dehorning methods on pain, cattle behavior, and wound healing.
“The results of this study are important to feedlot managers because dehorning and tipping have been a common practice during processing of a cattle after arrival at the cattle feeding facility,” explained Dr. Dan Thomson of Kansas State University, who worked on the study. “Many reports from the field have indicated that banding to remove horns has been recommended. We decided to look at the level of pain, procedure success, and the healing process of the cattle.”
The article reported observations from four treatments. Forty animals were divided equally between non-dehorned control, banded using high-tension elastic rubber, mechanical removal of horns, or tipping of horns. The cattle were observed at the time of dehorning and scored for vocalization during the procedure. From the time of dehorning through 28 days after the treatments, a scoring system was used for attitude, gait and posture, appetite, and lying.
The results of the study revealed that during the trial, only three of the horns that had been banded actually detached from the calf. Furthermore, 13 of the 20 horns at the end of the trial still had the band with the horn attached to the calf. When observing vocalization during the dehorning process, cattle that were banded and mechanically dehorned recorded the highest vocalization scores compared with the control group or the tipping method. Interestingly, the group that was banded had lower vocalization scores at the time of dehorning than the mechanically dehorned, but higher vocalization after the procedure.
Also worth noting is the attitude scoring for each group. The group that was dehorned using the banding method recorded the worst attitude scores compared with all other treatments. Likewise, the band group also recorded the poorest scores for gait and posture compared with the other treatments. Also, the banded cattle laid more often than cattle that were dehorned with other methods. In addition, during the third and fourth week after dehorning the banded group had a poorer horn bud score compared with cattle in the other treatment groups.
Based on these observations, the authors recommended that banding should not be used as a dehorning method. When compared with the other dehorning methods, tipping caused the least amount of pain and behavioral concerns.
“The most significant finding from this study was the ineffectiveness of banding to dehorn cattle compared to other techniques and the long healing time that comes with banding of horns,” explained Thomson. “We would recommend that producers do not dehorn or tip the horns of cattle upon arrival at the feed yard but tipping is the least invasive and painful of all techniques based on our research.”
ASAS Media Communications