“Dehorning hurts. It’s a lot of stress and we should be giving them a lot of anesthetics. The research is clear. The dehorning is the single most painful thing we do.” ~ Temple Grandin
Cows, goats, and sheep are de-horned (also known as dis-budding, when done to young animals before the horns fully develop) to make the lives of farm operators easier. Farmers say that dehorning benefits the animals, because they tend to get frustrated in the conditions they are forced to live in and can take this frustration out on each other, resulting in deep cuts and even disembowelments. This can be rather costly as the cost of replacing a cow is much higher than the cost of dehorning a cow. Rather than giving cows enough space to roam around and giving them a natural life, farmers view dehorning as a more “humane” and more importantly, a more profitable alternative.
Pain reliving medications are generally not used when dehorning animals. There is a small minority of farmers who use anesthetic, though the vast majority do not. According to the USDA, more than nine out of ten dairy farmers do not use anesthetic when dehorning cattle. The older an animal is, the more painful the dehorning process. This is because there are sensitive nerve endings at the base of the horns, connected to the skull. As an animal matures, these become more strongly fused and formed, and results in a much more painful experience.
Common tools for dehorning include: hot iron, knife, dehorning cup, and dehorning scoop, though embryotomy wire can also be used. The dehorned animals often bleed profusely, and so heat cauterizing is often used to stop bleeding (in essence, putting a hot iron into the bloody wound where the horn has been removed). The animals often bellow and groan in pain and discomfort, and writhe and wriggle in a futile attempt to escape the pain.