Cattle (England): Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock (PB7949)

Section 2 - Calf rearing


Disbudding and dehorning

Under The Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1954, as amended, it is an offence to disbud calves or dehorn any cattle without the use of an anaesthetic other than when chemical cauterisation is used. Chemical cauterisation may only be used during the first week of life.
117. Disbudding means removing the horn buds in calves, before any horn material can be seen. It is preferable to dehorning as it is less stressful to the animal. Disbudding should take place before calves are two months old and ideally as soon as you can start to see the horn bud. It is strongly recommended that chemical cauterisation should not be used. Disbudding should only be carried out with a heated iron, under local anaesthetic, by a trained and competent stock-keeper.
118. Dehorning should not be a routine procedure. It involves cutting or sawing horn and other sensitive tissues under local anaesthetic. Ideally, a veterinary surgeon should do it, and only if it is necessary for the herds welfare. It should not be a routine procedure. If you feel that dehorning is necessary, it should be done in spring or autumn to avoid flies or frosts. Following the procedure, the animal should be given appropriate pain relief. You should protect the wound from contamination by such things as grass seeds, hay or silage until the hole has scabbed over. You should put hay racks at a level which reduces the risk of food falling onto the head and contaminating the wound.
119. The person doing the disbudding or dehorning should always allow enough time for the anaesthetic to numb the area before they begin. They should test this by pricking the skin in the area to see whether the animal can still feel anything around the horn bud or the base of the horn.
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