Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Humane Dehorning of Cattle

First off it is most humane to get rid of the horns before they get a start. There are a couple good options 1.) you can burn the horn " bud " with either an electric or propane cattle dehorning unit when the calves are very young, I think it is under 2 months old 2.) you can apply a dehorning, caustic paste to the horn bud which does the same thing. This could be tricky as you need to be sure to keep the calf restrained for a bit or else cover the buds with duct tape so she doesn't rub the paste off and burn some other part of her body or another cow.
I admit I haven't done either yet, because frankly they don't appeal to me and I didn't think horns were a big deal until this past winter. I have 13 cows and 2 have their horns. In the summer it isn't an issue, but this winter Gale, in the picture, decided to start really using those horns on the heifers. One heifer Madeline is still missing some hair on her back legs from Gale. Jules, the other horned cow is actually a 2 year old heifer, and hadn't used her horns on anyone yet, but I feel sure she would have once she realized that she was the only cow with horns.
I had heard about a humane method of dehorning cattle, and was finally pushed to give it a try because of the poor heifers getting pushed around. You can just cut the horns off, but this is BLOODY, very painful, pregnant cows have been known to abort their calves and a lot of cows become very headshy as a result of the trauma. I definitely did not want to do that, and would have probably just sold the horned cows if that was my only option. Instead, I decided to try banding the horns with the Callicrate Bander. This is actually a very nice bander used for castrating bulls. You can see a tutorial on dehorning with the bander at this link.
http://www.nobull.net/bander/SBdehorning.htm Note: It is not recommended that you try this with regular cheap bands, you need the heavy duty strengh with the unique tightening gauge found only on this bander. My dad just so happened to own this particular bander, so we did it. We put one set of heavy duty bands on Gale and 2 sets on Jules. For us it was extremely easy, fast, the cows really didn't show any signs of distress, and have been so content that I was really starting to doubt whether or not it would work. The bands were covered with duct tape to keep the cows from rubbing them off so I couldn't actually visualize any changes of the band, BUT I did notice immediately that Gale stopped using her horns on the heifers, and after a week or two their horns felt cool to the touch. Restriction of blood flow to the area. Then their horns started to look kind of waxy, and flaky.
Six weeks almost to the day after putting the bands on, I noticed at dusk that Gale had a horn hanging down just like in the photo above. There were a couple drops of blood on her face, I'm not kidding like only 2 drops, and that's it. The cows are not traumatized, Gale likes me to scratch around the falling off horns, they are probably itchy, and Jules the heifer is actually MORE friendly than before. She has gotten to come into the milk stanchion and eat a little grain while I monitor her progression so I think she has actually almost enjoyed this process! I am so glad we finally did this, I only wish we had done it sooner. I'll update photos when the process is complete and their horns are gone. Maybe a before and after picture. I should have taken a pic of poor Madeline to demonstrate why we made the move to get horns out of our herd. I would recommend this to anyone, particularly if you are in really close contact with the cow, such as a family milk cow. There are reasons why most dairys don't have cows with horns. The cow could hurt you unintentionally to just tossing her head to rid herself of flys, if your in the wrong spot.
This is simple, doesn't require any skill, but good restraint should be used such as a stanchion. Don't forget to give your cow a tetanus shot too.


  1. Greetings,
    I have a 17mth. jersey heifer that is 3mth. pregnant right now and we just had to dehorn her yesterday because she has become to aware of them and was becoming a bit scary to my kids. Well everything seems to be fine, it all went well, I was wondering if you had any preferences on taking care of the holes in her head. I have lots of ideas myself but would love to hear someone elses as well. And wondering should I give her a tetanus while being pregnant??
    This is my first cow, I have always raised goats so........I'm learning some things the hard way.
    Many Blessings

  2. Thank goodness I found your site, I refuse to dehorn the old fashioned and accepted way as it is so cruel and hurtful for the poor cows! I have two boys and they have discovered their horns and had to be removed from the women folk (heifers hehe) they are fretting badly but now there is a solution to my problem and for this I thank you. :-)

  3. Thanks for this post! I have a polled jersey milk cow and just bought a 4 yr old horned Dexter cow to train to milk as we just don't need 6 gallons of milk per day and the feed it takes to keep her in condition is a strain. I need to dehorn the dexter and this seems the best way. I will be following your blog...your life is alot like my own.

  4. Wow, I am so glad I found your blog! I have a 3 month old calf that is just now getting horn buds. The gentleman I got her from recommended that I use his vet to have her horns "scooped out" I just can't imagine the pain involved, and the chance of her dying is too much for me to bear. I am going to look into ordering this tool and bands, so I can do hers when they are big enough. Thank you so very much!