Disbudding and dehorning (66)


Source: National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals – Dairy Cattle, Section 4.3

Disbudding and dehorning are done for the safety of cattle and their caregivers. Disbudding refers to removal of the horn bud prior to three weeks of age. Removal of the horn after this age is referred to as dehorning. Disbudding is recommended over dehorning because it is less invasive. All calves should be disbudded to avoid injuries and behavioral problems associated with horns in later life. It is also important that the job of disbudding be done correctly to avoid the re-growth of horn in the future.

Pain control reduces animal discomfort during disbudding and dehorning. Local anesthetics can reduce the pain caused by the procedure, but do not provide adequate post-operative pain relief. The most popular local anesthetic, lidocaine, is effective for two to three hours after administration. The use of analgesics in addition to a local anesthetic can minimize pain and stress in the hours that follow dehorning.

The use of a sedative can essentially eliminate calf response to the administration of the local anesthetic and the need for physical restraint during the administration of the local anesthetic and during disbudding/dehorning. Thus a combination of sedative, local anesthetic and an anti-inflammatory reduces the response to pain during and after disbudding/dehorning. The above drugs are only available with a valid VCPR.


Pain control must be used when dehorning or disbudding.

Bleeding control must be used when dehorning.


  1. disbud calves before three weeks of age
  2. adequately restrain the calf
  3. use a method that is appropriate for the size of horn and/or age of animal
  4. ensure only trained persons carry out disbudding/dehorning procedures
  5. use a combination of sedatives, local anesthetics and analgesics
  6. isolate calves following the use of caustic paste (to avoid accidental caustic burns to other animals)