The best practices for dehorning stocker and feedlot cattle continues to be in question. A recent study suggests horn tipping may be the solution.
Kansas State University researchers used 40 crossbred steers and heifers with an average weight of 686 pounds to study the effects of dehorning methods on pain, cattle behavior and wound healing.
The cattle were assigned to four treatments: 1. Non-dehorned control cattle; 2. Horn banded using a high tension elastic rubber; 3. Mechanically removed using a keystone dehorner placed one-half inch below the base of the horn; 4. Tipped using a hand saw at the point where the horn diameter was 1.25 inches.
The banding method restricts blood circulation to the horns, resulting in necrosis causing the horns to eventually fall off.
The cattle in this study were dehorned by their respective treatment on the first day. Researchers recorded chute behavior and vocalization during the dehorning process. After dehorning, the cattle were placed in a single pen and fed together during the 28-day trial. In that time, cattle were visually scored daily for wound healing, depression, gait and posture, appetite and time lying down.
Further, they were individually weighed on the first day and on days 7, 14, 21 and 28.
The researchers reported that vocalization scores at dehorning were highest for mechanically dehorned and banded cattle.
Mechanical dehorning had a more pronounced effect on discomfort during the dehorning procedure, but the effects were short lived and vocalization stopped on release of the animal from the chute.
The banded cattle had lower vocalization scores at the time of dehorning but greater vocalization after dehorning, indicating lingering discomfort from the presence of the band.
Further, banded cattle tended to exhibit more depression, abnormal gait and posture, abnormal lying down, and slower wound healing in the latter weeks of the trial than cattle in the other treatment groups.
Tipped cattle exhibited the least amount of pain-associated behavior throughout the trial (similar to non-dehorned cattle).
No difference was detected in performance between the different dehorning procedures.
The researchers also noted the success of banding was poor during the trial. Of 20 banded horns, four of the bands fell off without removing the horn in the first four days of the trial. During the 28-day trial only three of the 20 horns that had been banded fell off, leaving 13 out of the 20 horns at the end of the trial with the bands still attached.
The Kansas researchers concluded that mechanically dehorning is a painful procedure for cattle and that horn banding is not an effective alternative to mechanical dehorning.
They said tipping horns resulted in the least amount of observable pain.
Statistics show dehorning continues to be an underperformed practice among cow-calf operations.
A 2007-2008 USDA survey of 2,872 beef cow-calf operations in the United States found that about 60% operations in the South Central and Eastern US did not dehorn any horned calves during 2007.
That compared with about 30% of operations in the Western and Central US. Not quite 60% of operations in the West (57.6%) and Central (58.9%) regions dehorned all calves born with horns. In the South Central region it was about 19% and in the East it was almost 29%.
For operations which actually dehorned calves, the average age at which they were dehorned was about 119 days.
Because of the large number of cattle which are not dehorned on cow-calf operations removing the horns of cattle when they arrive at feeding facilities is a common practice to reduce injury to other cattle and handlers.
In addition, there is an increase in bruising on carcasses of cattle that have been housed in pens that contain horned cattle. Bruises are trimmed out of a carcass, resulting in lost carcass weight, devalued primal cuts and reduced carcass value.