In 2014, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) established guidelines for the dehorning and castration of calves. On a regular basis, AABP reviews and updates its guidelines to make continual improvements over time and to make sure they incorporate the latest scientific evidence and recommendations.
In 2019, AABP separated the guidelines for dehorning (updated November 2019) from castration (updated August 2019), the group said in a Dec. 30 announcement.
“AABP felt that the topics of castration and dehorning differed enough that it made sense to develop separate guidelines to focus on the issues and considerations specific to each topic,” AABP animal welfare committee chair Dr. Renee Dewell with Iowa State University explained.
Dehorning cattle is a necessary procedure to reduce the risk of injury to the animal, other cattle and people, and during transportation to slaughter facilities, the practice reduces bruising of carcasses, AABP said, noting that it recognizes that there are management differences in performing this procedure for newborn calves in the cow/calf and dairy industries.
AABP said because dairy calves are handled daily, the guideline recommends that disbudding/dehorning be performed no later than eight weeks of age. The beef industry has made significant improvements in utilizing polled genetics, and currently only 7.8% of beef cattle are born with horns, according to the "National Animal Health Management System Beef 2017 Cow-Calf Survey" from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“One significant update in the dehorning guidelines is the recommendation that pain mitigation protocols for dehorning be considered a standard of care,” Dewell said. “This was done to reflect the considerable body of scientific evidence that has shown that calves benefit from pain mitigation protocols associated with dehorning and disbudding procedures.”
“AABP is the ‘go-to’ organization for government and policy-makers when it comes to issues of cattle health, production and well-being,” added AABP president Dr. Calvin Booker from Okotoks, Alb. “As a result, it is imperative that AABP is a leader in developing and updating guidelines and position statements affecting these topic areas.”
Specifically, the AABP animal welfare committee updated the sections in the guidelines on proper restraint, local anesthesia and systemic pain relief.
“The updated guidelines provide science-based recommendations to help veterinarians and producers best raise the animals entrusted to their care,” Dewell added.
AABP is a membership-based, not-for-profit organization serving cattle veterinary medicine professionals across the U.S., Canada and other countries.