Dehorning Cattle : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

Can cattle be de-horned? If so, are there ages beyond which you can't do it, or breeds that don't do well? Does anyone have any experience with de-horning Highland cattle? Is it expensive or dangerous? None of my books address this subject... I'd really like to get some Highland cattle. They have all of the features of hardiness, healthiness, easy calvers, etc. that I am looking for but I really don't want the horns! Thank you for any suggestions you can make! Carol

-- Carol Parks (, October 01, 2000


Yes cattle can be dehorned. Personally I wouldn't dehorn anything older than a yearling, but even that can be done. They bleed a lot worse the older they are.

Dehorning an older animal is typically done by sawing the horns off. A younger animal with fair sized horns will either have them sawed off, or a dehorning tool similar to a minature version of a jabber type posthole digger. They are placed over the horn, the handles pushed apart, and as the handles are pushed apart the cutters clamp around the base of the horn pinching and cutting into it. I don't know how to describe it better. Sorry.

If you are selling calves hoping to get top dollar, buyers seem to prefer calves that have been dehorned at a few months of age. Buyers also prefer horned breeds over polled breeds for some reason. Perhaps they just like the looks of a blockier head.

If you will be keeping the calf, I would just use dehorning paste. The paste is a mild acid that eats at the horn bud thus destroying it and keeping it from growing. It can be applied when the calf is a few days to a couple of months old. Trim the hair from around the bud and apply according to directions.

If the calf has much of a horn bud developed I would use a horn scoop. It looks similar to a piece of hollow electrical conduit that is about 5 inches long, that is sharpened, and is mounted in a round wooden ball of a handle that fits in your palm. This is placed over the horn bud, turned to cut the flesh, then the sharpened edge is pushed in under the bud to scoop it out. While you want to get all of the bud, you don't want to go deeper than necessary to promote rapid healing. If you do them when quite young there isn't much bleeding, but you should always have some blood stopper handy. As with an procedure on livestock you should disinfect your tools.

The horn scoop is a few dollars, or at least was the last time I purchased one. The dehorning acid is relative inexpensive.

The danger involved is mainly from bleeding if you use a scoop, or saw the horns off.

I have no experience with the Highland cattle, but you might just cross breed them to a polled breed to simply breed out the horns. You may still get a few with horns.

-- Notforprint (, October 02, 2000.

we dehorned our bull calf and hefier this spring, he was about 4 weeks old and the vet burned his off just like a goat,she was about 6 weeks off and hers were scooped out. he was fine right away,hers needed more after care the flies would come to her. the vet knocked both of them out, i dont know if it can be done w/ out knocking them out. he was also banded at the same time.

we did it because of having small children around. i would think a uncommon breed would be more marketable w/ horns.

-- renee oneill (, October 02, 2000.

Accept the horns with the breed. I have yet to hear the first incidence of any agressiveness in Scotish Highlanders. IMO, cattle are only as mean as you make them. Treat them with love and respect and they return in kind.

Children should be taught to respect large animals, particularly bulls, as even one raised as a bottle calf can one day turn on you. Cattle do far more damage with their head (crushed ribs, broken bones, etc.) than with their horns.

I use only naturally polled bulls. I don't buy or raise herd replacement cows with horns. I probably get 80% polled calves, 15% scurs and 5% horned.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, October 02, 2000.

Yes. Cattle can be dehorned, but I don't know how.

There is an alternative to the Highland breed. Don't get me wrong, I really like them too (except I like the look of the horns). The Galloway breed had a similar history, as they are from the same area, & for a time both breeds were recorded in the same breed book (being very closely related). Galloway's are polled (hornless), tend to have a little more milk for their calves, & grow out (put on weight)a little faster then Highlands (yet still grow slower then other common breeds like Angus).

This is only a suggested alternative so you wouldn't have to bother with dehorning.


-- animalfarms (, October 02, 2000.

We used to dehorn our Dexters, only because our kids were small and the horns were just about the right height for accidentally getting bumped or jabbed. The most successful way for us was burning the horn buds when very young (about a week). They screamed, I always cried and felt terrible, but it worked and they seemed fine in a couple of days. We had two awful experiences with the scooping method; too gruesome to even think about, and the flies got to them, even with all our dedication,and they got maggots in there, and I thought I would die! The grossest thing I have ever experienced. So then I stopped dehorning all the bullcalves, my kids got bigger, and three years ago I stopped dehorning everybody.I love the horns now; although I would probably not keep a bull with horns, just in case. I would wonder what your reason is for not wanting horns. We have never had any trouble with them, and I think Highlands have gorgeous horns. I think sawing off horns is inhumane; they have lots of nerves in there, and the horns do serve a purpose of heat regulation,as well as them being able to protect themselves and their calves from predators. So for what its worth, my suggestion would be if you are dead set against horns, select a naturally polled breed.

-- Earthmama (, October 08, 2000.

Hi, I'm from Australia. We have 9 calves now, 2 of which aren't yet weaned. Out of the 7 that we used the burner with on the horns, 5 of them still have horns! We were sure we got it right. I think the other 2 are poll. The oldest steer is a bit of a problem with his horns, particularly at feed time.Live and learn I guess.

-- colleen varlow (, January 15, 2002.

I'm not familiar with that breed, do they get pretty big horns I'm thinking if I have the right breed in mind?

It's difficult for big-horned animals to get into a bale feeder, etc. They also can be _very_ hard on each other with the horns. Some breeds can be pretty aggressive on fences & such with the horns. Good reasons to dehorn. Yes it can be done, earlier is better, and where I live do it during the cold weather, no flies. I'd have the vet do it the first time or two, & get suggestions from him/her on when & how to do it yourself. This is something to experience, not just read about, to get it right. :)


-- paul (, January 15, 2002.

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