At one time, the most respected group of bovine veterinarians on the continent lumped dehorning and castration together with comingled guidelines.
That is no longer the case.
“The AABP felt the topics of castration and dehorning differed enough that it made sense to develop separate guidelines to focus on the issues and considerations of each topic,” explained Renee Dewell, a veterinarian who chairs the Animal Welfare Committee for the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP). With that in mind, AABP leaders updated recommendations for castration in August, while dehorning recommendations were revamped this November.
Main updates to dehorning
“One significant update in dehorning guidelines is the recommendation that pain mitigation protocols for dehorning be considered a standard of care,” said Dewell, who serves on the staff at Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“This was done to reflect the considerable body of scientific evidence that has shown that calves benefit from pain mitigation protocols associated with dehorning and debudding procedures.”
Dairy a bigger concern compared to beef
In dairy operations where calves are handled daily, disbudding or dehorning should be performed by 8 weeks of age, recommended the AABP Animal Welfare Committee in its updated Dehorning Guidelines.
Of course, dehorning cattle reduces the risk of injury to the animal, other cattle, people, and during transportation to slaughter facilities it reduces bruising of carcasses.
The recommendations for dairy calves differ from their beef-calf cousins for a few reasons. For starters, beef calves get handled far less often in cow-calf operations. Then there’s the fact that only 7.8 percent of beef cattle are even born with horns due to extensive use of polled genetics. That information comes from the NAHMS Beef 2017 Cow-Calf Survey.
When dehorning calves, AABP made updates in the areas of restraint, local anesthesia, and systemic pain relief in the Dehorning Guidelines.
As for AABP’s updated castration protocols, those can be found by downloading the document Castration Guidelines.