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Boshoff Beyers - Using Pain Control for Debudding or Dehorning Cattle

Cattle Dehorning: Using Pain Control for Debudding or Dehorning Cattle

Cattle dehorning can be done at any age, but it’s suggested that you do it as young as possible. While, scooping horns and debudding are the preferred methods for calves, there are actually four main techniques for cattle dehorning, and they are: Saw Cutting, Debudding, Guillotine Cutting and Spoons or Scooping.

Saw Cutting

If the cattle are over the age of three, it is necessary to use the Cutting Saw, because by this time the horns have grown too hard for the guillotine cutters to work.


This method is used for removing the horns in calves that are very young. It is generally done between 7 and 18 days old, before the horn has the chance to attach itself to the skull. This is commonly used where calves are handled daily like by bottle and dairies raisers.

During this process, lidocaine is injected near the horn bud and numbs the location. It is best to use nearly 4cc of lidocaine, and then place an electric debudder on the bud of the horn for between 15 and 20 seconds. This will not only heat the bud up, but it will also kill the horn before it ever grows.

This method tends to be rather easy, as no blood is lost and the numbing agent prevents the calf from being in pain; thus, making the animal easier to work with. In fact, it will only take a hackamore or a halter to restrain the cow.

Guillotine Cutting

When it comes to dehorning cattle between six months and three years, guillotine cutting is the method used. This cutter is versatile, as it can be used to completely remove the horn or simply cut the tips off. Many ranchers like to leave a small horn that is nearly one inch away from the hair line. During this process it is necessary to use searing as it will prevent infections and prevent excessive blood loss.

Spoons or Scooping

For those cattle not handled by humans frequently, spoons or scooping is the preferred method. This procedure should be done depending on the horn growth and cattle breed, but it is sometime around two to six months. At this point of the cow’s life, the horn is still rather small between one to two-and-a-half inches long.

It is common for cattle to be restrained in head gates during the process to ensure it only takes one good scoop. The scoops are pressed over the horn and as far down as they will go. It is angled to cleanly follow the skull and scoop the horn completely out. It is designed this way so the operator doesn’t have to worry about how deep the tool is reaching. The person will use one full force down to scoop.

If this process is done properly, there will be very little blood loss and searing will not be necessary after scooping to cauterize. A searing iron can be a great option to have in place just in case the scoop fails to reach far enough down. Cauterizing after scooping the horn will not only stop any bleeding, but it will also prevent infections. Lidocaine is used to numb the area and prevent the cattle from enduring any pain.

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