It is shocking that you can easily find videos that demonstrate, step by step, how to dehorn cattle. We as humans are so desensitized to the cruelty that we routinely perpetrate upon animals, that people think nothing of ‘teaching’ others some of these horribly cruel tricks of trade. Disbudding or dehorning is the term used to remove or stop the growth of horns among animals bred for dairy products and meat. Livestock such as cattle, sheep and goats are often dehorned.
Why do the dairy and meat industries use dehorning?
The purported reasons offered up for dehorning relate either to ‘safety’ or ‘economics’. Some of the other facile explanations offered for dehorning are – horned livestock take up more space. Supposedly horned animals may injure each other, or their horns may get trapped in vegetation or fences. Horns could grow in a way as to cause injury and may be prone to breaking, infection and blood loss. None of these reasons would be an issue if humans simply stopped preying on animals for food and animal byproducts, of course.
Importance of horns
Not only is the dehorning procedure excruciating and painful for the animal, horns are actually necessary for the cooling and thermoregulation for the animal. So when their natural horns are shorn, the natural process is hindered. This is however of no significance for the dairy and meat industries, who use a number of horribly cruel and painful methods to dehorn animals.
The cruel methods of dehorning
There is cutting of horns when a calf is as young as a month old – a curved knife is used to literally slice off the budding horns before the calf reaches two months of age. Other blades or hand saws may also be used for dehorning later in the life of the animal, when it is older and the horns have started to grow. At this time the animal will experience far more excruciating pain.
Cauterization is another method used to dehorn animals. The calves are typically about 3 to 4 weeks old when a cauterizing hot iron is used to apply searing heat to the growth ring to kill the budding horn. Not only does this kill the horn, the underlying flesh and bone will frequently be injured in the process.
A newer, more refined form of torture has gained currency in recent times. This type of dehorning uses caustic chemicals. A paste of these caustic chemicals is applied to the horn bud of young calves to kill the growth ring. The horn then falls off after some time. The fact that the paste could cause injury to the animal’s eyes and other tissue, particularly when it’s raining, is mere ‘collateral damage’ that makes no difference to the cattle owners.