VetEnt Dehorning

Horns on cattle can pose significant welfare issues, and the best way to prevent these is to disbud or dehorn at an early age.


Horns in cattle can be a significant source of injury to cattle. There are special considerations that are relevant to the transport of horned animals. Because of these significant welfare issues, it is best management to disbud calves at an early age. However, occasionally it is possible that disbudding has failed, and horns need to be removed at a later age. Also in beef herds, it is often not possible to disbud calves because of management reasons.


There are two Animal Welfare codes that are relevant to dehorning and the transport of horned animals.

Animal Welfare (Painful Husbandry Procedures) Code of Welfare 2005

This is a code of welfare issued under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Minimum Standards

The appropriate sections state:
The owner or person in charge of animals has overall responsibility for the welfare of animals held on a property or in a facility.
When dehorning is performed, the following must apply:
1. The method must be chosen and undertaken so as to minimize the pain and distress and other negative health consequences (e.g. infection) for the animal, and
2. Dehorning without pain relief must be performed when animals are as young as possible, and not greater than nine months of age.
3. When dehorning any animal over the age of nine months, pain relief must be used.

Recommended best practice

1. Pain relief should be provided when animals are disbudded or dehorned.
2. Animals should be disbudded in preference to being dehorned.
3. To facilitate the humane and effective management of the animals, and to minimize tissue damage and pain, horns should be prevented from developing, or be removed, at the youngest age compatible with minimizing associated negative health and welfare consequences for the animal.
4. When dehorning, effective means of preventing excessive blood loss should be used. Likewise a wound dressing or medication should be applied, and if flies are likely to be a problem, the animals should be treated with an insecticide.
5. All animals should be inspected regularly during the healing period, especially for the first two weeks after disbudding, and any infected wounds treated.
6. Where dehorning has exposed the frontal sinuses of the scull, animals should be inspected regularly during the healing period, and any infected wounds treated.
7. Precautions such as vaccination should be taken to minimize the risk of Clostridial infections.

Animal Welfare (Transport within New Zealand) Code of Welfare 2011

This is a code under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Minimum standards

"Animals with horns or antlers of a length that may cause injury or be damaged must not be transported, except where special provision is made for such animals to be transported so that they do not cause injury and are not injured themselves." This usually means transporting in a pen on their own.

Recommended best practice

Animals should not be transported within a three week period after a painful husbandry procedure (e.g. dehorning, castration) has been conducted.

Veterinary Dehorning

Good facilities are required for dehorning. Ideally the head should be caught in a head bail to prevent injury to the cattle beast, and the operator. The nose is caught with a nose grips to hold the head steady. Veterinarians always use a local anaesthetic with the optional use of a sedative.

Different methods can be used to remove the horns depending on the size of the horns and the facilities.
1. Dehorning scoopers (Barnes dehorners): These can be used on small horns.
2. Guillotine type dehorners: These are used on mature horns.
3. Embryotomy wire: This can be used when it is not possible to get the head through a head bail, if the horn has grown around close to the head, or if better control of bleeding is required.

For more information on disbudding, click on this link.

To discuss dehorning with a veterinarian, or make a booking contact your local VetEnt branch.

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