Farmers who find disbudding is just too hard on their animals are turning to more humane methods.
For a long time farmers have carried out disbudding of horns by burning off the buds while the squirming calves or heifers have been trapped in a crush.
Rural veterinary clinics are now offering a procedure where they anaesthetise calves, apply a local anaesthetic and pain relief, and then burn the buds.
Kyabram vet Mick McAuliffe does about two properties every week and recently invited other farmers to witness the procedure on the Weardens’ dairy farm near Kyabram.
He believes the practice will only become more commonplace as the industry adjusts to pressure from animal welfare lobby groups.
The Weardens raise about 200 calves annually in a split-calving pattern and for the first time they had a large group of about 60 head disbudded with anaesthesia.
‘‘We heard about it, so we asked for a trial and it went well,’’ Susan Wearden said.
‘‘We liked the idea of a more humane method,’’ she said.
‘‘The cost was a factor ($8.50). We had to work out how we would carry that, but it was already going to cost about $4.50 to $5 each for the old method, anyway.
‘‘This also has the benefit of carrying out a check on calf health as well. Mick has treated one for an infected eye, one for an infected ear from an ear tag and removed several excess teats.’’
Dr McAuliffe worked with the assistance of veterinary technician Rachel McDougall.
First he gave a sedative by intra-muscular needle, which is also an analgesic.
Once the calf is lying down, the horn area is clipped and a local anaesthetic is injected to block the pain.
Then a gas fired disbudding tool is used to remove the bud which is not yet attached to the skull. A spray-on seal is then applied to prevent infection.
This procedure at the Weardens’ took about 90 minutes for the 60 head.
‘‘Studies have shown that you can achieve up to 30 per cent improved growth rates over the ensuing two weeks,’’ Dr McAuliffe said.
Some vets offer local anaesthetic and hot iron cautery only, but the animals have to be restrained for the procedure.
The RSPCA supports the breeding of poll animals (animals without horns) to avoid having to perform the procedure.
Where disbudding and dehorning is performed, the RSPCA believes that animals must be given an anaesthetic and pain relief.