Dehorning, castration and pain mitigation

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How “routine husbandry procedures” such as dehorning and castration are being performed on farms are increasingly being scrutinized by the public. The results of a survey of AABP and AVC members conducted by the research group of Hans Coetzee, BVSc, Cert CHP, PhD, Dipl. ACVCP suggest that:

  • Surgical castration with a scalpel followed by emasculator (>90 kg) or twisting (< 90 kg) is the most common castration method used by practitioners in the United States.
  • Risk of injury, calf size, handling facilities and experience were the most important considerations in selecting a castration method.
  • Non-surgical castration is perceived to cause more adverse events than surgical castration.
  • 1 in 5 veterinarians currently report using anesthesia or analgesia at the time of castration.
  • 90% of veterinarians vaccinate and dehorn at the time of castration.
  • The Barnes dehorning tool appears to be the most common method of dehorning used in the USA. .

The results of studies that use plasma cortisol or weight gain to determine the optimal timing and method of castration in and use of analgesia are often equivocal or conflicting.

  • The provisional findings of a study using electroencephalography to examine the effect of age at the time of castration on brainwave activity show a more prominent shift toward high-frequency, low-amplitude brain activity in older calves compared with 6-week-old calves
  • Meloxicam tablets administered orally at 1 mg/kg may provide a convenient and cost-effective means of providing analgesia in cattle
  • In recent studies we found that meloxicam administered prior to dehorning at 0.5 mg/kg IV significantly increased average daily weight gain in calves after dehorning
  • A second study found that calves receiving oral meloxicam 24 hours prior to surgical castration tended to have a lower incidence of bovine respiratory disease
  • Follow-up studies with meloxicam are planned and participation from qualifying feeder operations that castrate large numbers of bulls on arrival is currently being sought. For more information please contact Dr. Hans Coetzee at jcoetzee@vet.ksu.edu

 



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