Pain management during dehorning, castration of calves is common sense


Last week the American Dairy Science and Animal Science associations hosted their joint annual meeting in New Orleans. At the meetings, more than 3,000 researchers, students, Extension and industry types gather to share research and new developments in science and the industry.

There is always something new to learn and there is always something that boggles the mind (the “DUH” category). For me, this year’s “new” category wasn’t earth-moving, but rather a well-documented reminder that we need to be vigilant in care and handling of colostrum.


This project evaluated a nationwide sampling of colostrum. Quality was measured by IgG level, and cleanliness was measured by bacteria total plate count. Long story short, of more than 700 samples, less than 40 percent made the cut on both measures.

Meaning that if these are representative of the general population, 60 percent of the time our calves are either not getting adequate immunoglobulins, getting a hefty dose of dirty (high bacteria) colostrum, or both. Likely end result is a failure of passive transfer, sick calves and higher likelihood of death before weaning.


Take home message: remind milkers about importance of proper cleaning and prep of fresh cow’s teats and using clean buckets to collect colostrum. Remind calf feeders to exercise extreme care when handling and processing colostrum for feeding and freezing.

This year’s DUH winner started out well. They were looking at pain management during dehorning and castration in calves. This is an important topic. We have to routinely employ pain management when we dehorn calves.

One very good method is the use of lidocaine. This is an extremely effective local anesthetic for dehorning calves. If you are not already using lidocaine, work with your veterinarian on dose and administration.

With proper injection of lidocaine and a few minutes wait for the anesthetic to numb the area around the horn bud, a calf will stand calmly while being dehorned. A win-win.


But, this is where the DUH factor kicked in. Because “animals don’t like to be handled,” during one project they didn’t allow time for the local anesthetic to numb the target area before starting the procedure.

If they didn’t like being handled before (a function of how you raise them), they sure aren’t going to like you after that. Use of pain management tools are important, as is good old common sense. We have to make sure we use both.

(The author is an OSU Extension dairy specialist located at the extension center in Wooster; 330-263-3799. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.