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Best Cattle Management Practices- Dehorning

By Dr. Mario A. Villarino, CEA-Hopkins

Horns are a complicated situation in the beef industry.

For one part, horns become a problem for the producer because they, at one given point, need to be removed to reduce damage to hides and other animals. Horned animals also mean more work to the rancher, since sooner or later, someone will have to take time to look after those animals with horns.

The interesting part of this is that horns are NOT a genetic dominant feature of cattle. For a cow to have horns, their ancestors MUST have horns in their parent lines.

Keeping a bull without horns in your herd (also known as polled) resolves the problem since their offspring will always be polled.

A selection of a good bull, with good characteristics and without horns can also add significant benefit to your herd. For those animals with horns, there are several options to remove them, must of them better suited to be implemented early in life.

A recent study in horn removal (also known as dehorning) from Kansas State University compared several methods of dehorning.

In the study, a group of 40 crossbred steers and heifers, averaging 686 lb, were either:

– dehorned, by mechanical removal (M), using a keystone dehorner placed 1/2 inch below the base of the horn;
– tipped (T), cutting with a hand saw where the horn diameter was 1 1/4 inches;
– banded (B), using a high tension elastic rubber band at the base or;
– not dehorned for experimental control (C).

Vocalization was scored when treatment was conducted.

Cattle were visually scored over the next 28 days for depression, gait/posture, appetite, lying, and horn bud healing.

Vocalization was higher for M and lower for T and C. Depression was higher for B. B exhibited more abnormal gait/posture and lying behavior. B also had higher appetite.

During the first week, M exhibited less healing but during the second and third weeks B showed less. The authors concluded that M was a more painful procedure but recommended against B because of later adverse effects.

For more information on this or any other agricultural topic please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 or email me at [email protected].


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