Calf Disbudding


Cattle with horns are dangerous to people and other animals and are removed for welfare reasons.  The process of removing horns in young cattle is referred to as calf disbudding or calf dehorning.  This is a service provided to our farm clients and lifestyle block holders by Cambridge Veterinary Services.


Calves are generally disbudded by a team of qualified staff including a veterinarian, when they are between 2-6 weeks of age (less stressful to the calf and the handler). The procedure involves heavily sedating all calves and the administration of local anaesthetic to the surrounding area.  Additional pain relief in the form of NSAIDs can also given upon request. This method of disbudding ensures the horn buds are removed effectively at the correct time, with a minimum of pain and discomfit to the animal.
While the calves are sedated, ear tags can be easily applied, navels can be checked for infection and extra teats that will interfere with future milking can be removed. Calves can also be given their first sensitizing dose of clostridial 5 n 1 vaccine.

New Welfare RegulationsThe new dehorning welfare regulations come into effect this year (MONTH). Essentially this means local anaesthetic must be used for disbudding or dehorning animals of any age. For most of our clients who use us for dehorning, it’s business as usual. However if you want to do the dehorning yourself, we need to do a certification process with you whereby you receive training on how to administer the local etc, and are observed doing the job to a satisfactory standard. Thereafter is a requirement for annual re-certification on-farm. An RVM authorization is issued to allow local to be held on farm. The volume of local dispensed and used is limited and must be recorded for audit. Likewise all procedures need to be recorded.

Trial work suggests giving an anti-inflammatory as well as local is beneficial to the calves .

It may require a bit more planning for dehorning contractors. They need to do a similar procedure but the local is issued under VOI because the animals are not under their immediate care. Also the product can only be purchased from the veterinary business which issued the VOI, and used within a specified area.


Disbudding Calves, topical local anaesthetic and effects on pain

VetEnt and Massey conducted a study in which they compared different treatments for disbudding 364 calves (2-6 weeks). Calf behaviour and pain sensitivity over the next 24 hours were monitored, and weight gain recorded.

All calves had a local cornual nerve block, as is now a legal requirement and which generally wears off in 2-3 hours. Half were sedated, half restrained in a crate.

Both these groups were then further divided into 3:

  • Nothing further
  • Meloxicam injection before disbudding
  • Topical anaesthetic antiseptic gel spray applied to the horn bud wounds afterwards

The calves were then assessed for the frequency of ear flicks, head shakes, head scratches and pain sensitivity of the wound (how much pressure can be applied). Additionally calves were weighed before disbudding and 7 & 28 days afterwards.


  • Sedation reduced pain (ear flicks and sensitivity to pressure).
  • Additional treatment with either meloxicam or TriSolfen further improved behavioural responses and pain sensitivity.
  • Average daily weight gain at 7 days was 0.14kg/d better for calves that had sedation plus metacam, and 0.09kg/d better for sedated calves at 28 days.