It wasn’t a question that Dr. Todd Duffield, a veterinarian who specializes in dairy health management at the Ontario Veterinary College, had even considered until it was asked by a student in 2001.
With veterinarians playing an increasingly active role in animal welfare and no data on pain management during and after cattle dehorning, Duffield decided it was time to do some research. He told the audience at a lecture presented by the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph that his goal became the development of practical dehorning guidelines.
Given his dual role as a researcher and clinician, Duffield promotes animal health and welfare but remains fully aware of the practical considerations as well as business and economic realities.
So why not just select polled animals? That may be a good long-term goal but in dairy it’s not a practical genetic selection criterion at the moment, he explained. There is only limited genetic stock available and selection for polled animals would lead to other problems, so at this time we have to accept that there will be dehorning to prevent injury to both humans and herd mates.
In a survey of Ontario dairy producers and veterinarians, Duffield found that 35 per cent of dairy calves were presently being dehorned with a local anesthetic. Of the producers, 22 per cent used lidocaine, 12 per cent used xylazine and none used a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) to manage pain in the first 24 hours after the procedure. Eighty-four percent of the vets who responded used lidocaine in all calves they dehorned and sixty-two percent indicated the