September 4, 2008

Dehorning adult cattle needs a vet

Too many farmers are not dehorning their calves before they are six weeks old so they, or the people who buy them have to face doing them when older. Recently there has been some concern from people who have seen very stressed bleeding yearling cattle after having their horns guillotined off without due veterinary care. This is illegal and could lead to heavy fines or imprisonment.

The MAF Code of Welfare on “Painful Husbandry Procedures” states, that “dehorning without pain relief must be performed when animals are as young as possible, and not greater than 9 months of age. When dehorning any animal over 9 months, pain relief must be used”. This means by a veterinarian.

Late winter and early spring seems to be a time when farmers realise that the horns on their cattle (especially heifers they are going to keep) have grown large over the winter, and as they never got around to it earlier, they had better dehorn them now before they get too big to handle.

Horns are a useless appendage these days and cost the country a small fortune in bruised meat (which you don’t see till the beasts are skinned) and damaged hides. They also cost taxpayers through ACC payouts to injured stockhandlers.

The horn is part of the skull and when it’s cut off near the head the hole you can see goes right inside the frontal sinus of the beast’s skull through a thin wall next to the brain. Mud and hayseeds get in the hole and resultant infections can kill the animal.

For the sake of the animal, it’s essential to get a veterinarian to do the job with an anaesthetic at whatever age you do it – even before 9 months. If you want to avoid this cost in future, then dehorn the animals as calves with a hot iron and an anaesthetic before they are six weeks old. Don’t use caustic paste which burns the skin for a few days and can be rubbed on to other animals.

To stop this carnage and bring about change, if you are buying dairy weaner calves this spring, refuse to buy any that have not been dehorned properly, or ask the vendor to refund the cost of dehorning which he/she should have done. If a Stock agent is buying on your behalf, then give clear instructions.

It’s long past time that horned breeds had polling genes introduced if they want to be part of the 21st Century and not part of primeval days what cattle needed horns to protect them from predators.

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