Preventing A Horrific Death by Impalement. Otherwise Known as Dehorning Cattle

  • Running with the Bulls (better title: Running FROM the bulls)

Have you ever seen the Spanish running of the bulls?  You Tube it sometime.  In my humble opinion, it’s INSANE.  Let’s get a crowd of 10,000 people shouting at ten riled up 1200-1500 pound bulls with horns like pickaxes running through a crowded street with a people who KNOW NOTHING ABOUT CATTLE.

I once had a morning with ten riled up, nervous 700 pound bulls that had never been through a chute that struck the fear of God in me about working with cattle.  It was 30 degrees outside, but I never felt cold.  Because the chute opened up into the same pen that I was standing in, and every bull, EVERY SINGLE ONE, turned about face and charged me after I castrated them and released them from the headgate.

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t feel the same way, but geesh.

When I released the first bull and he turned 180 degrees and our eyes met, my heart hit the roof of my mouth and I am happy to report that my feet got the message and I raced inside the chute and shut the door between me and the bull calf.  For some reason, I was surprised that the second bull did the exact same thing.  By the third bull I had caught on (I’m not a doctor for nothing, folks), and was ready to jump inside my safehaven of the chute.

My point with this story is that these bulls didn’t even have HORNS.  Nor were they 1100 pound cows aiming to protect their young.  Handling cattle is an art, it takes skill and practice and good breeding practices.  There are a lot of variables.  So this is why we try to eliminate one of those variables through dehorning.

As a veterinarian, if at all possible, I would recommend dehorning when a calf is between 2 and 4 weeks of age.  This is technically called ‘disbudding’.  A local anesthetic block is used to numb the horn and the horn is burned off at the base with a hot iron calibrated for this operation.  A pain relief injection is given for post-op pain.  If done correctly, the calf does not miss a feeding with the dam and the problem is taken care of early on.  Another alternative to this is a small dehorning tool that scoops the horn tissue out while the bud is still small.

If you work with cattle at all, you’ve likely seen a veterinarian dehorn a calf with horns that are several inches long.  It’s a tricky operation; it has to be done when it’s cold (and the flies aren’t out), but not too cold or the tissue won’t heal properly.  You have to have a chute and the proper size of dehorners.  You have to have proper cutting of the base of the horn or the horn will scur (grow back).  It also has the potential of bleeding like crazy.  And getting infected.  And throwing a calf off feed.  So although it is sometimes necessary and unavoidable, it is best to dehorn when the calf is 2 months of age or younger.

If those bull runners had any clue beforehand what it feels like to run away from a ticked off bull, they would never voluntarily get in a closed space with them.  And they would really like my idea of dehorning those bulls when they are pequeno.