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Dehorning and disbudding

Dehorning or disbudding is the process of removing or stopping the growth of horns in livestock. Breeding polled (hornless) livestock removes the need to dehorn or disbud livestock, or trim their horns.

Genetic tools have recently become available to allow breeders to identify cattle that will give calves without horns. Polled sheep and goats are also available. Producers should consult their local livestock advisor about breeding for polls.

Livestock without horns:

  • Are less likely to hurt or injure other livestock.
  • Are less likely to hurt or injure themselves.
  • Are easier to handle.
  • Cause less damage to farm infrastructure such as yards, gates and troughs.
  • Require less space during transport.
  • Require less space in feedlots.
  • Are easier to catch in a head bail and apply ear tags to.

State legislation

State legislation regarding dehorning, disbudding and horn trimming varies around Australia - including the maximum age that livestock can be dehorned or disbudded, or have their horns trimmed without analgesia. It is possible that will change as part of the development of new Australian Standards and Guidelines for the Welfare of Animals.

Producers should check with their state department of primary industries as to the legal requirements regarding dehorning, disbudding and horning trimming in their State.

The Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock stipulate horn trimming requirements for livestock being exported from Australia.

Best practice for dehorning and disbudding

  • Always dehorn and disbud animals as young as possible to minimise pain and stress to the animals and limit production losses.
  • Ensure good restraint facilities.
  • Ensure adequate protection against tetanus.
  • Ensure instruments are well-maintained, clean and sharp.
  • Do not use caustic dehorning chemicals.
  • Do not use tools such as axes, hammers and chain saws.
  • Remove a complete ring of hair 1cm wide around the base of the horn to prevent horn re-growth when dehorning.
  • Use artery forceps, firm pressure, a pressure bandage or cauterisation immediately to control excessive bleeding.
  • Inspect livestock frequently (daily) after dehorning and disbudding for about 10 days to detect complications. If these occur, treatment should be quickly administered.