Cows are often represented in cartoons and on advertisements with horns, yet in real life that is generally not the case. Certain breeds have been selectively bred to not have horns, but the majority of cattle are dehorned at a young age. Cattle are safer to be around (both for herd mates and farm workers) without horns.
Calves are born with little bud protrusions where their horns will grow. Studies show that the younger the calf, the less pain they felt, and the quicker they recovered. The more horns grow, the more difficult and painful they are to remove. At 2 months, the horns attach to the frontal bone of the skull and the sinus cavity. If the dehorning process waits until after this time, the calf will have a hole into their sinus cavity until they heal.
Local anesthesia is always given prior to dehorning. Often, a sedative and pain relievers will be administered as well (depending on the operation). Calves are always watched carefully for a few days after the dehorning process for discomfort and infection.
While there are several different methods for dehorning, the following 3 are the most popular and effective.
Chemical Dehorning – Best practice states this should be done on newborn calves. A caustic, chemical paste is applied to the horn buds, which eats away at the cells of the horn, preventing them to grow. The reason why this is best on newborns is because they don’t move as much, and are less likely to rub the paste on themselves or another animal. It’s best to cover the area with duct tape to prevent this from happening.
Hot Iron – The iron head is a hollowed circle that fits over the horn bud. These are available in different sizes, be sure to choose one that will fit over the entirety of the bud. If the iron is too big in circumference, it will cause unnecessary pain and not be as effective. The iron destroys the horn producing skin at the base of the horn, and the bud will fall out once the area is healed.
Dehorning Spoon or Tube – This method involves a sharp metal tube that cuts into the skin and removes the bud with a scooping motion to cut from underneath.
As with all medical procedures, it is best to consult with your local veterinarian for this process.
Anderson, Neil. “Dehorning of Calves.” The Beef Site
“Disbudding Calves.” Nadis.org