Calf disbudding – why is this important?

To enable the humane, safe and effective management of animals, and to minimise tissue damage and pain, horns should be prevented from developing.  


Cattle with sharp horns are dangerous.  They use their horns confidently and aggressively, which poses a greater risk to handlers especially when restrained for husbandry procedures.  A German study found that 13% of farm accidents with cattle are due to horned animals.


Horned cattle also cause injury to other herd mates.  The damage inflicted can vary from minor skin lesions to serious injury which are especially problematic when the udder, abdomen or vulva are affected.


The Code of Welfare states that animals with horns of a length that may cause injury or be damaged must not be transported, except where special provision is made. Furthermore, animals must not be transported with bleeding horn stumps, or within seven days of being disbudded or dehorned.


Meat workers prefer dehorned cattle as this keeps carcass bruising to a minimum, thus reducing the risk of damaged meat being discarded.  Furthermore, even small lesions inflicted on the hide by horned cattle can reduce the sale value of leather.

Disbudding is the process of removal of the horn bud, before it attaches to the bone of the skull, and is preferable to dehorning which involves a much more invasive and unpleasant amputation procedure.


  • Local anaesthetic to numb horn


  • Sedation of the calf with xylazine
  • Local anaesthetic to numb horn

For either option one or two ongoing pain relief can be given by the use of injectable anti-inflammatories.

In addition to our sedation service there is the added benefit of being able to perform other animal health procedures such as: vaccination (clostridia and leptospirosis), detection and
removal of supernumerary teats, ear tagging, BVD/parentage ear notch testing, castration and hernia repair.

Please note that on the 1st of October 2019 the welfare codes for calf disbudding will be changing. Thereafter it will be mandatory that all animals undergoing disbudding, at any age, will require local anaesthetic. To apply this anaesthetic the operator must be a veterinarian or personnel skilled with the procedure. We endorse this change as it is important to use pain  relief due to disbudding and dehorning being painful husbandry procedures.

If you would like to book your calves in to be disbudded, please contact your local branch. We hope the season is going well and if you have any further queries please feel free to contact us at any time.

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