Effects of three dehorning techniques on behavior and wound healing

Author: Kristy

By Clem Neely, Dan Thomson, Chad Kerr and Chris Reinhardt, Beef Cattle Institute 


Most feedlot cattle today do not have horns due to polled genetics or dehorning at an early age. However, some horned cattle are still received at feedlots, and it is a common practice to dehorn or tip horns when cattle arrive. Horns have been shown to increase carcass bruising and carcass trim. Dehorning by mechanical means is a painful procedure and is a practice of high concern for beef producers, veterinarians, academics and animal welfare advocates. This study was conducted to provide baseline data for behavior and wound healing in cattle dehorned with different procedures.

Forty crossbred, horned steers and heifers (BW = 693+/-10.5 lb) at a commercial feedyard (Dodge City, Kansas) were used. The cattle were randomly assigned to one of four treatments (n = 10 animals per treatment): 1) non-dehorned control (CON); 2) banded using a high tension elastic rubber (BAND); 3) mechanically removed (MECH); or 4) tipped horn (TIP). Base horn diameter ranged from 2.0 to 3.0 in and horn length ranged from 4.0 to 8.0 in. The MECH method (keystone dehorner) was performed such that .5 in of skin at the base of the horn was removed.  The TIP method was performed using a hand saw; horns were tipped so that the diameter of the horn was 1.25 in. The BAND method was performed using a Callicrate BanderTM.

At dehorning, vocalization was scored (0 = no vocalization; 1 = low volume, short-duration (< 1 sec) vocalization; 2 = extended vocalization (> 1 sec or greater volume intensity)). Cattle were then placed in a single feeding pen. Cattle were observed daily at 8:00 am for 28 days following treatment for wound healing and behavioral assessments, which included: depression, gait and posture, appetite and lying. These variables were also scored on a 0 to 3 scale with 0 indicating low stress or discomfort and 3 indicating high discomfort.

At dehorning, vocalization scores were highest for MECH cattle, and BAND cattle vocalized more than TIP and CON (P < 0.05). In the days following the procedures, attitude (P = 0.06), gait and posture (P = 0.06), and lying scores (P < 0.05) were higher (greater discomfort) for BAND cattle compared cattle on all other treatments. Cattle on the BAND treatment tended (P < 0.13) to have higher appetite scores than the other dehorning methods. Wound healing scores (horn bud and bleeding) were higher for BAND cattle than MECH, TIP and CON cattle (P < 0.05). Only three of 20 banded horns had detached from the animal at the end of 28 days.

These data indicate that MECH is a painful procedure for cattle at the time of the procedure. However in the 28 days following the procedure, cattle dehorned using the BAND procedure showed greater discomfort than cattle than CON, MECH or TIP cattle. Banding to remove horns from cattle is not recommended based on the data and observations from this study.

The full report is available on the BCI website at

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