Calf disbudding


Horned cattle are dangerous to other cattle, as well as people, especially when they are confined during mustering, yarding and transport. For this reason, if cattle are not naturally polled, disbudding or dehorning should be carried out.

Disbudding is the process of removal of the horn bud, before it attaches to the bone of the skull, and is preferable to dehorning which involves a much more invasive and unpleasant amputation procedure.

Therefore, in the vast majority of horned cattle, we recommend disbudding at between two and six weeks of age. The New Zealand (NZ) Veterinary Association has written a set of guidelines that matches Totally Vets aspirations.

  • Disbudding and dehorning should only be performed after effective "blocking" of the cornual nerve with local anaesthetic.
  • Disbudding should be carried out between two and six weeks of age.

  • Disbudding using the cautery iron is the recommended method.

  • All calves should be observed for a period of two weeks after disbudding to detect any which become infected.

  • As well as local anaesthesia, appropriate long acting analgesia should be given at the time of disbudding and dehorning.

While these guidelines go further than the minimum requirements set out in the Animal Welfare Act 1999, Animal Welfare (Painful Husbandry Procedures) Code of Welfare 2005 (, we believe that farmers should consider the best possible standards of welfare for their animals. Be aware that the minimum requirements of the code do stipulate that dehorning of animals over nine months old must be performed with pain relief.  

At Totally Vets our preferred method of disbudding involves general anaesthetic (as well as local) which makes the job much less stressful on the animals and handlers. It also provides a perfect opportunity for other animal health procedures such as vaccination (excellent timing for initial shot against leptospirosis and clostridial diseases), ear tagging, DNA test sampling, detecting and removing extra teats, castration and hernia treatment.

Call your clinic now to book in your first batch of spring calves!