Are you dehorning your calves or putting it off until just before they are put on feed? If you're putting it off you could be taking a substantial hit in performance. Yearling Holstein steers that were dehorned and then put on feed gained weight much more slowly than herdmates that had been dehorned as calves, according to research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Lancaster Agricultural Research Station.

Dan Schaefer, animal scientist at UW-Madison, and Arin Crooks, assistant station superintendent at Lancaster, studied the performance of a group of late dehorned and previously dehorned steers. The steers were put on feed in late November 2000 at an average weight of 835 pounds. Newly dehorned steers received a local anesthetic, then had their horns removed and blood vessels cauterized. Housed outdoors with a woodlot windbreak, the previously dehorned steers averaged a daily gain of 1.7 pounds. The newly dehorned steers had an average daily gain of 0.89 pound.

Newly dehorned steers sold for an average of $615.39 per head. Had the horns been left intact those calves would have gained more weight but taken at least a 3-cent per pound hit on the sale price. The cattle would still have returned $612.65 per head - a difference of just $2.74 per head. In other words, dehorning the calves later in the season was barely profitable.