Joshua's Farm

New England Farm Log

June 8, 2012


Titania after dehorning

Larry Dwyer assisted in the handling of little Titania when she was four weeks old in the first week of May. Though the process of removing horn buds can be painful, the use of lidocaine as a subcutaneous painkiller above the orbital ridge nearly eliminates pain and discomfort to the calf. Having done this with and without lidocaine and see a calf writhe in pain, I have vowed never to use the burning iron without the needle.

Dehorning is practiced by nearly all contemporary dairies. small and the question arises..why not leave the horns?

As my friend Debra Tyler in Cornwall, where all things of natural rhythm are practiced on the raw milk "Local Farm," this is the one experiment that wont work in close quarters and with visitors underfoot. One of Debra's cow allowed to keep its horns ended up stabbing a heifer in heat.

Even a nonaggressive quick flick of a head carrying horns can break a handler's ribs...or harm another cow. Calves left to their dam's side are at greater risk from other jealous mothers, and the horns don't fit well in stanchions.

Although they do have the benefit of perfusing and cooling the blood supply in very hot weather, and just plain look nice, there are few benefits to leaving them intact.

The same is not true for oxen...which virtually all have horns intact...for aesthetic and nostalgic reasons when farmers didn't have the ability to remove horn "buds" with electrically charged irons.

Today, farmers have the option of using semen from "polled" bulls that pass on a genetic predisposition to having no horns to begin with...however this trait is gained at the expense of other not so perfect genetic habits.

Thus bull calves of the shorthorn breed are often uniquely allowed to keep their horns...those that don't get sold as oxen are raised as veal or steers.. the preferred method for removing horns remains burning them ...this means cauterizing the blood vessels that feed the budding horns as they appear at just a couple of weeks old. Its a bit tricky, and vets are often called to do it, but with some training and experience with needles, this is a process that can be accomplished in a small barn.

Other methods include a caustic paste, which won't work in close quarters with other cows, and especially a mother cow who will tend to lick if off. In herds where calves are destined for the show ring, the preferred curved forehead can only be created by waiting on the buds to grow for a few months, then "scooping" them out. This is a very bloody task, almost always performed by a vet and involves strong painkillers.

Dehorning is best conducted in the early Spring or fall when the fly population is low and cooler weather hastens healing. Flies are attracted by open wounds and will want to lay their eggs in them.

Titania seemed to take the process in stride, and didn't shake her head afterward as she would have if the process had causes lingering pain.

Dehorning site, one month later