BAIRNSLEY  HIGHLANDS

DEHORNING HIGHLANDS

Why Dehorn Non-Breeding Highlands?

Some might ask why dehorning is necessary with a breed where the horns are so important to the character of the animal. While for stud and pet Highlands, we like the aesthetics of horns, and indeed are critical of horn shape in our animals, dehorning is an important measure in the more commercial fold. As times goes by, and OH&S continues to guide our systems and processes, this will become an even greater necessity.

Some abattoirs will not take horned animals any more, and trucking horned animals has its own inherent problems. Sale yards do not like to handle horned animals and indeed the price you get for horned animals at sale yards will be considerably lower because of fear of bruising to other animals that they are in with.

Therefore, any Highland that is not kept for breeding, should be dehorned. This should be done as early in their life as possible (by 3-4 weeks of age ideally) so as to keep the stress on them and the setback in growth to a minimum. This is actually a common procedure in other commercial breeds – more than half of the beef breeds out there are naturally horned but these horns are generally removed when the calves are young.

Older animals that are to be sent to an abattoir should be dehorned as well, unless you are fortunate enough to have one near by that still takes honed animals. Ideally this should be done 6 months prior to their departure, to give them time to recover and put condition on again.

 

95% of bull calves should be castrated & dehorned
(all but the top 5% of the breed –
this is not necessarily the top 5% of your fold each year though).

 

Options for Dehorning

Less Than 4 weeks of Age


This is by far the safest and most effective to to remove horns. It also sees the least stress & setback to the animal.

** Highlands have more prolific horn growth than other breeds of horned cattle. Where directions may say an age up to which you can dehorn with a particular implement, for Highlands we halve that age.

Debudders (Electric & Gas)

Advantages:
⇒ no bleeding, rarely get any horn regrowth
minimal setback in growth due to this procedure
can be performed by the farmer, at same time as castrating & ear tagging
rare to get an infections or fly strike

Disadvantages:
cost of equipment & some technique required
⇒ modest pain associated with procedure
contact time varies - 4 seconds for the hottest gas debudder (750oC), 6-8 seconds for  around 700oC, and up to 15 seconds for some electric debudders where heats of 620-650oC are the maximum.

** You may want to clip or cut the hair around the horn bud as this will both make it easier to see the area and prevents hair smoldering or even catching alight.

Good restraint is important. You need another person to hold them in most instances, or consider using a calf head restraint (shown on the left).

Dehorning Paste

Advantages:
simple to use by almost anyone, relatively inexpensive product
no bleeding, minimal setback to animal if perform at a young age (best before 10 days, but can be done up to 4-5 weeks of age in Highlands)

Disadvantages:
although it is less traumatic than heat debudders, this is still somewhat painful to the calf & in fact has been banned in a number of countries because of side affects from spillage onto local areas or damage from being rubbed on the dams udder.
can be less effective for various reasons (rubbing or licking off, rain washing it down the face) or incorrect amount applied - experience is important.
ideally need to keep cow & calf separated for a minimum of 6 hours until paste hardens (less likely to burn udder skin when suckling, or tongue when dam tries to lick it off)
spillage of this caustic paste onto skin or eyes (people or animal) can be very damaging

Tip - Some apply a ring of Vaseline around the area to keep the paste contained. Some have used elastoplast, duct tape or band aides over the applied horn bud/paste to prevent the mother from licking it off, although this is not recommended by the manufacturers.

For a 'How To' lesson on using dehorning paste, click here for a YouTube  video link.

1 – 6 Months of Age

Scoop Dehorners (Barnes & other makes)

Advantages:
⇒ quick and relatively simple to perform with good restraint (in a crush -  Read about yard & crush design for Highland cattle.)
relatively inexpensive to purchase
horn regrowth rare if performed properly (need to scoop out the germinal or growth layer of skin surrounding the base of the horn)

Disadvantages:
moderate bleeding & significant pain
mild to moderate setback to animal
infection and fly strike sometimes (don't do in summer)


6-12 Months of Age

 

Older than 6 months, you should strongly consider using your vet to perform these procedures with appropriate pain relief (local anaesthetic block, sedation & other pain relief). When older than 12 months, it is a legal / animal welfare requirement to have a vet perform this task.

 Scoop Dehorners (Barnes & various other makes)

Advantages:
quick and relatively simple to perform in a crush  (Read about yard & crush design for Highland cattle.)
horn regrowth rare if performed properly with the right implement (need to scoop out the germinal or growth layer of skin at the base of the horn)

Disadvantages:
larger dehorners are getting more expensive to purchase
moderate to severe bleeding & marked pain
moderate setback to animal (up to 2-3 months)
infection and fly strike sometimes (don't do in summer)
⇒ Horn regrowth / scur formation, is common

Wire (embryotomy wire or cutting wire)

Advantages:
relatively inexpensive & easy to use

Disadvantages:
always get horn regrowth
takes a couple of minutes to cut through
moderate bleeding & pain
⇒ moderate setback to animal (up to 2-3 months)
⇒ infection and fly strike sometimes (don't do in summer)


Electric or gas debudders can be used to cauterise the bleeding areas of horns when more mature animals are dehorned.

Older Than 12 months - Mature Animals

** Where dehorning a mature bull or cow to send to the abattoir, you only need to take the horns back to level with the tips of the ears.

2 Year old bull Same bull 3 months after dehorning

Scissor or Guillotine Dehorners (e.g. Bainbridge)

Advantages:
quick & relatively easy to perform in a crush (some force required for mature animals)

Disadvantages:
always get horn regrowth (unless you can get the germinal layer of skin surround the horn base out)
moderate to marked bleeding & pain
moderate setback to animal (up to 3-6 months)
infection and fly strike sometimes (don't do in summer)
larger dehorners are getting more expensive to purchase

Wire (embryotomy wire or cutting wire)

Advantages:
relatively inexpensive & easy to use (although can take minutes to cut through)

Disadvantages:
always get horn regrowth (only useful if sending animal off within 6-9 months)
moderate - marked bleeding
moderate setback to animal (up to 3-6 months)
infection and fly strike sometimes (don't do in summer)

Other Dehorning Methods

As well as embryotomy wire mentioned above, a dehorning saw can be used or even an angle grinder with a masonary disc which seems to burn through, thus preventing a lot of bleeding.

Bander Rings (as used to castrate older bulls)

The jury is out on the use of these at the moment but there are a few anecdotal reports to say that these can work if applied properly (to the skin at the base of the horn). The horn is supposed to slowly loose it's blood supply & would be expected to drop off after 2-4 months. Worthy of consideration as it would be bloodless and easy to perform.

 

References:

1) "Dehorning of Calves", Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs
(http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/dairy/facts/09-003.htm#tech)