Calf disbudding

Raising dairy calves is a process that involves intensive management. From the first day in the calf shed the calf will move through many steps before heading out to grazing.

A vital part to get right is disbudding and the timing of this is very important. One of the main problems we encounter is calves being done too late. Disbudding is the process of removing the horn bud before it adheres to the bone of the skull. This is preferred to dehorning them as older animals which is a more invasive procedure. The best time to disbud is between two and six weeks of age. Calves over eight to 10 weeks frequently have horn buds that have grown too high to enable proper contact of the ring of the hot iron with the horn base, resulting in more bleeding and potential regrowth of horns. Calves with overgrown horn buds need to be scooped. Also, in older calves more sedative needs to be used and has a less predictable response.

Our preferred disbudding method is sedation plus local anesthetic and pain relief. This provides the benefit of being quicker and allowing other procedures to be done such as vaccination (clostridia and leptospirosis), BVD/parentage ear notch testing, DNA testing, castration, checking navels, removal of extra teats and ear tagging.

We have a training programme for owners and farm workers to become competent and certified in the use of local anaesthetic for disbudding. Once trained you will be able to do the disbudding yourself. The initial training is an on-farm session combining some theory and practical instruction. This can take one to two hours and can be for up to four people. For those of you already certified, we are required to revisit and review your disbudding for annual recertification. Please call us for more details regarding this and/or training of farm staff.

Please book in early to get the preferred timing for your disbudding in the two-to-six-week window.

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