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					      Agricultural Extension Service
         The University of Tennessee
                                       PB 1684




Dehorning
 Calves




                                                 1
Contents
    3   Dehorn Calves When They Are Young
    3   Restraint Can Prevent Injury to Both the Producer and the Animal
    4   Correct Dehorning Prevents Future Growth
    4   Proper Preparation Makes Dehorning Easier
    4   Methods of Dehorning
    4   Chemical Dehorning Works Well with Young Calves
    5   Tube Dehorning Can Remove Horns from Calves Less Than 2 Months of Age
    5   Hot Iron Dehorning Can Work Well with Young Calves
    5   Barnes Dehorners Work by Cutting the Horns Off Young Calves
    6   Saws, Wires and Keystone Dehorners Are Methods to Remove Horns from Older Cattle
    6   Care and Management of Cattle following Dehorning
    6   References




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   Dehorning Calves
                                       Fred M. Hopkins, Professor,
                      Large Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine;
                            James B. Neel and F. David Kirkpatrick, Professors,
                                      Department of Animal Science




D    ehorning calves is a simple,
     cost-effective practice that
adds value to feeder cattle.
                                    showed that bruises created a
                                    $12 loss per head for every cull
                                    cow and bull that the industry
                                                                         pre-dehorning weight. A few
                                                                         calves may develop infections,
                                                                         and rarely an older calf can die
Feeder cattle that are either       slaughtered in 1994.                 of blood loss. Calves are best
polled or have been dehorned            Breeding animals in the          dehorned at less than 1 month
usually sell for $1.50 or $2.00     herds should also be dehorned        of age to avoid set backs and
more per cwt. than those with       to improve the ease of working       complications. Dehorning in
horns when marketed.                and to reduce the possibility        the early spring or fall avoids
     Horned cattle in feedlots      of injury to both producer and       the fly season and makes infec-
cause substantial bruising of       cattle. Cattle without horns         tions less likely. Total cost for
carcasses during transporting       also take less space at the feed     dehorning has been estimated
and handling. Results of the        trough and cause fewer injuries      at $5 per head. This cost can
1992 National Beef Quality          during transportation.               be reduced when combined
Audit revealed that 31.1 per-           Calves sold as feeders and       with other practices. The 1997
cent of the cattle in feedlots      requiring dehorning experience       NAHMS survey of cow-calf
had horns. These horned cattle      both reduced performance and         management practices revealed
accounted for a $1 loss for ev-     increased sickness. Dehorn-          that the average age of de-
ery animal slaughtered or a to-     ing of these calves normally         horning calves was 162 days, or
tal loss to the nation’s beef in-   occurs while they are also           5.4 months, which is too old.
dustry of $24.5 million. Most of    stressed by weaning, marketing
the bruises are on the rib, loin,   and transporting. The USDA
round and other high-priced
cuts. The USDA’s National
                                    NAHMS conducted a survey of
                                    feedlots in 1999. These feedlots
                                                                         Restraint Can
Animal Health Monitoring            indicated that feeder calves         Prevent Injury to
System (NAHMS) conducted a
survey of 1,250 feedlots in 1999
                                    dehorned at least four weeks
                                    prior to shipping had reduced
                                                                         Both the Producer
and the results showed that 17.4    sickness or death loss.              and the Animal
percent of all the cattle placed                                              An important first step in
in feedlots had horns.                                                   dehorning is to have an appro-
     The 1994 National Non-
Fed Beef Quality Audit evalu-
                                    Dehorn Calves When                   priate and adequate method

ated beef produced from cull        They Are Young                       of restraining the calf. Proper
                                                                         restraint insures the safety of
cows and bulls. It revealed that         If calves are dehorned ear-     both the calf and the operator.
the frequency of horns in cull      ly in life, there are few compli-    Calves less than 1 month of
cows and bulls was higher than      cations. However, some labor         age can be dehorned by laying
in fed cattle. The audit showed     and equipment are required.          them on their side and holding
that horned cull cows and bulls     Calves dehorned at more than         them down. This may require
have twice as many bruises as       2 months of age may require          an extra person and the abil-
hornless cattle. The audit also     two weeks to return to their         ity to tie down a young calf.
                                                                                                        3
A squeeze chute or headgate           fully follow label directions          Calves to be dehorned are
will be needed for older calves.      in mixing disinfectants and       placed on their side and held
A head bar and nose bar will          water. A solution with an in-     down. The hair is clipped
aid in restraining the animal’s       correct concentration will not    around the horn bud and out
head.                                 properly disinfect.               to make a 1-inch diameter
                                                                        hairless circle. Petroleum jelly
                                                                        is applied all around the outer
Correct Dehorning                     Methods of                        edge of the hairless area to
                                                                        prevent burns from the chem-
Prevents Future                       Dehorning                         ical. The caustic material is
Growth                                    Although the simplest         applied inside the circle of
                                                                        petroleum. No bleeding will
                                      method of producing calves
     When done correctly,                                               occur and there should be no
                                      without horns is to use a ho-
dehorning will both remove                                              fly problems. It is a good idea
                                      mozygous polled bull, many
the horn and also prevent it                                            to use gloves when applying
                                      other methods are available to
from regrowing during the life                                          caustic material.
                                      dehorn calves. These methods
of the animal. The horn grows                                                The calf should be kept
                                      include chemical, “tube,” hot
from the skin at the base of                                            away from its mother until the
                                      iron, Barnes dehorners, saws,
the horn. A properly de-                                                caustic material becomes dry
                                      wires and keystone dehorners.
horned animal should have a                                             and hard. If they are not kept
1/4 – 1/2 inch wide ring of skin at
                                                                        separated, the calf may cause
the base of the horn removed                                            burns to the cow’s flank or ud-
to prevent horn regrowth.             Chemical Dehorning                der due to contamination from
                                      Works Well with                   the caustic material.
                                                                             The calf should be kept
                                      Young Calves                      out of the rain for a day or two.
                                          Chemical dehorning            Rain may cause the caustic
                                      involves applying a stick or      material to run down the calf’s
                                      paste containing a caustic        face or into its eyes.
                                      chemical, such as sodium or            A scab should form over
                                      potassium hydroxide, to the       the horn buds within a few
                                      horn bud. This method is best     days after applying the caustic.
                                      used on calves less than 3        This scab should drop off in
Figure 1. Proper location for
                                      weeks of age and can be done      one to two weeks, leaving a
horn removal
                                      after 1 day of age. It is im-     hairless area.
                                      portant to read and carefully
                                      follow package directions to
                                      safely and effectively use this
                                      method. Necessary supplies
Proper Preparation                    are inexpensive and readily
Makes Dehorning                       available. They include:

Easier                                   • Caustic paste or stick
                                         • Clippers or scissors
    Before dehorning, all                • Petroleum jelly
equipment should be sharp, in
good working order and disin-
fected to prevent horn wound
infection. Chlorohexadine and                                           Figure 2. Using caustic chemicals to
povidol iodine are commonly                                             dehorn calves
used disinfectants. Also, care-
4
                                                                             seen inside the copper ring
Tube Dehorning Can                                                           and next to the horn. If the
Remove Horns from                                                            proper color change does
Calves Less Than 2                                                           not occur, reapply the iron
                                                                             for 10 seconds and check
Months of Age                                                                the skin color again.
                                                                         (6) The horn should fall off
     Tube dehorning is best
                                                                             within four to six weeks.
done in calves less than 2
months of age with horns less
than 11/2 inches long. A spe-
cial instrument, which comes
                                   Figure 3. Using a tube dehorner
                                                                         Barnes Dehorners
in several sizes, is used to cut
out the horn button and sur-
                                                                         Work by Cutting The
rounding skin from the head.                                             Horns Off Young
When a dehorning tube is used,
the diameter of the tube should
                                                                         Calves
be 1/4 – 1/2 inch more than                                                   Barnes dehorners remove
the diameter of the horn bud                                             the horns by cutting them off
base. To use the tube dehorner,                                          and are useful in calves from
the appropriate-sized tube                                               2 months to 1 year of age.
is placed over the horn bud                                              The dehorners come in sev-
and pushed down to the sur-                                              eral sizes, so it is important
rounding skin. The skin is cut                                           to select a size big enough to
through by pushing down on                                               remove the horn and a 1/4 – 1/2
the tube and twisting. After the                                         inch circle of skin at the base
skin is cut through, the horn                                            of the horn. Place the Barnes
bud is removed by leaning                                                dehorner so the widest part
                                   Figure 4. Using a hot iron dehorner
the tube over to the side and                                            of the cutting blade is aligned
quickly pushing under the horn                                           with the widest part of the base
bud to remove it.                      Following are steps in using      of the horn. Close the handles
                                   hot iron dehorners:                   of the instrument and place it
                                   (1) Clipping the hair where the       on the calf’s horn. Dehorning
                                       horn joins the head to make       is completed by pressing the
Hot Iron Dehorning                     the hot iron dehorners            instrument firmly against the
Can Work Well with                     easier to use.
                                   (2) Warm the dehorner to its
Young Calves                           proper temperature and
    A variety of hot iron              restrain the calf.
dehorners are available.           (3) Place the hot iron over the
The heat source may be fire,           horn and hold it in place
household current, batteries           with firm pressure.
or butane. All these dehorn-       (4) Twist the iron evenly to
ers work by burning the skin           distribute the heat.
at the base of the horn where      (5) After 20 seconds of contact,
the horn growth occurs. This           remove the iron and look
method works best in small             at the skin for a copper
calves less than 2 months of           color indicating the skin
age and when the horn is less          has been heated enough
than 1 inch long.                      to prevent horn growth. A         Figure 5. Using Barnes dehorners
                                       white ring of skin should be
                                                                                                            5
calf’s head and quickly opening
the handles of the dehorner.         Care and                            References
A twisting motion, when the          Management of                       (1) Baseline Reference of
handles are nearly completely
opened, assures a complete cut       Cattle Following                        Feedlot Management Prac-
                                                                             tices, Part 1. 2000. National
through the skin.                    Dehorning                               Animal Health Monitoring
                                                                             System. Veterinary Services,
                                          Following dehorning,
                                                                             Animal and Plant Health
                                     bleeding is more likely with
Saws, Wires and                      older cattle. Artery clamps can
                                                                             Inspection Services. United
                                                                             States Department of Agri-
Keystone Dehorners                   be used to reduce the bleed-
                                     ing. These clamps grab the
                                                                             culture.
Are Methods to                       artery and slowly pull it away
                                                                         (2) National Beef Quality
Remove Horns from                    from the head until it breaks.
                                     Stretching the blood vessel
                                                                             Audit, Executive Summary,
Older Cattle                         causes it to contract so clot-
                                                                             1992. National Cattlemen’s
                                                                             Beef Association, Engle-
     Hand saws, obstetrical wire     ting can occur. After bleeding
                                                                             wood, Co.
and keystone dehorners are           has slowed or stopped, apply
generally reserved for use on        blood coagulation powder
                                                                         (3) National Non-Fed Beef
older cattle with larger horns.      and fly spray to the wound.
                                                                             Quality Audit, 1994. Na-
Ideally, the need to dehorn an-      This reduces the likelihood of
                                                                             tional Cattlemen’s Beef As-
imals greater than 1 year of age     continued bleeding and infec-
                                                                             sociation, Englewood, Co.
is infrequent. Remember that         tions. The calf should then be
a 1/2-inch circle of skin must       released into a quiet, shaded
                                                                         (4) National Non-Fed Beef
be removed with the horn to          environment so its blood pres-
                                                                             Quality Audit, 1999. Na-
prevent regrowth. Be prepared        sure will go down. This is an
                                                                             tional Cattlemen’s Beef As-
to stop bleeding after dehorn-       important step in reducing
                                                                             sociation, Englewood, Co.
ing and to care for two large,       bleeding. After dehorning each
open head wounds for a period        calf, all equipment should be
                                                                         (5) Reference of 1997 Beef
of time.                             thoroughly cleaned and disin-
                                                                             Cow-Calf Management
                                     fected in preparation for de-
                                                                             Practices, Part 1. 1997. Na-
                                     horning the next animal. Close
                                                                             tional Animal Health Mon-
                                     observation of the calves for
                                                                             itoring System. Veterinary
                                     about 10 days and continued
                                                                             Services, Animal and Plant
                                     fly control is important.
                                                                             Health Inspection Services.
                                          Dehorning is a simple, cost-
                                                                             United States Department
                                     effective management practice
                                                                             of Agriculture.
                                     that adds value to calves. Do-
                                     ing the job early in life, hav-
                                                                         (6) Reynolds, Reggie and Bill
                                     ing good restraint and using
                                                                             McKinnon. 1993. What
                                     an appropriate cleaned and
                                                                             Feeder Cattle Buyers and
                                     disinfected instrument should
                                                                             Feeders Tell Us. Proceed-
                                     prevent any problems.
                                                                             ings of 1993 Virginia Cow-
                                                                             Calf Conference. “Quality
                                                                             - The Name of The Game.”
Figure 6. Using Keystone dehorners                                           Virginia Cooperative
                                                                             Extension Service, Virginia
                                                                             Polytechnic Institute.



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