Methods for Dehorning Beef Cattle

Calves up to two months old

On intensively managed properties, it is feasible to dehorn very young calves (up to two months old). Three methods are commonly used: hot iron, knife, and spoon or tube.

Hot iron

Various hot iron dehorning tools are available, including wood fire heated, LPG heated, butane gas heated and 12- and 24-volt electric models. Generally these methods are best suited to calves up to about 8 weeks of age.

Various hot iron dehorning tools are available, including wood fire heated, LPG heated, butane gas heated and 12- and 24-volt electric models. Generally these methods are best suited to calves up to about 8 weeks of age.

With the calf firmly restrained and the iron heated to a cherry red colour, apply the iron firmly over the emerging horn bud. Roll the hot iron over the horn bud several times so that a ring of tissue around the bud is burnt through the full thickness of the skin. Heat must be transferred evenly all the way around the horn bud to ensure that the horn growth tissue is destroyed. In due course the horn bud will drop off.

The benefits of this method of dehorning are that it can be carried out at any time of the year. There is no loss of blood and no wound to become infected.

Knife

Acurved knife similar to a farrier’s knife (but without a hook on the end) can be used for dehorning. Start the cut about 2 cm away from the base of the horn, then draw the knife through the skin towards and through the horn, slicing off the horn level with the skull. This will remove an elliptical piece of skin with the horn in the centre. If the cut has gone too near the edge of the horn so that the removed horn bud has an incomplete ring of hair, make another small cut to remove the skin to ensure no horn-forming tissue is left from which a scur (a rudimentary, deformed horn) may grow. Make the cut swiftly and firmly.

Knife Dehorning

Spoon or tube dehorners

These instruments are used in a similar way to the knife to remove the small horn bud. Older calves and weaners.  The choice of tool for dehorning older calves (two to six months of age and weaners) is varied, but the most commonly used are the cup type (below left) or scoop type (below right) dehorners.

Dehorning Cup

Cup dehorners are operated with a scissor-like movement. The operator may need an assistant to apply downward pressure on the tool to stop it from riding up the horn and leaving some horn-forming tissue behind. The scoop type dehorner is pressed down vertically on the horn as the operator spreads the leverage arms.

Both instruments are effective and easy to use. When removing the horn with either instrument the same principle applies as with the knife: at least a 1 cm ring of skin around the base of the horn must be removed.

Treatment after dehorning

After the operation, animals may bleed freely for a short time. Heat cauterising of the wound of older calves is gaining acceptance as a means of reducing blood loss and drying out the wound.

The application of a proprietary wound dressing powder (dusting powder) is often sufficient treatment; a powder that contains a fly repellent is recommended if dehorning in the warmer months when flies are a problem.

Dehorning pads are available from many rural merchants. These are placed on the wound and reduce the amount of blood loss from the operation. The pads are left on the wound until they drop off with the scab.

As stated on the Code of Practice, after dehorning, cattle should be inspected regularly for the first 10 days and any infected wounds treated.

Horn tipping

The removal of the sharp points of the horns of adult cattle is known as horn tipping. This procedure is of little value in reducing the amount or severity of bruising on carcases, but tipping can relieve the irritation caused when a curled horn grows back into the head. The operation can sometimes be done by placing large dehorners over the horn tip. Where this is not possible, embryotomy wire is used to saw through the horn tip.