Horn fallen off 1

Removing Cattle Horns—All You Need to Know

Jan 1

Author: Aderjan (Jan) Jacobus Botma

Jan Botma was born and raised on a farm near Wolmaransstad. He studied law at the North-West University and worked as a real estate agent, before shifting to business and farm management at the Firth Group. Jan also owns and manages a small wood-processing start-up business. In his spare time, Jan teaches financial education to local community members and advocates the world’s transition to sustainable renewable energy usage.

Have you ever wondered why some cattle breeds have horns and others not? Perhaps you’ve never given this some thought either. The interesting thing is that there’s a perfectly good reason why the horns of some cattle breeds are purposefully removed. This article offers insights into the cattle dehorning process and why it’s done.

Introduction—Cattle with sharp horns can be dangerous

When working with cattle, the most dangerous part of the job is to make sure to not get in the way of their dangerous sharp horns. When working in the veld, or in a cattle press, cattle’s horns often present problems. It only takes one wild swing and you have a potential life-threatening injury on your hands. Additionally, the cattle bruise each other’s bodies with their horns as well.

Solution—Dehorn cattle for safer handling and cattle management

There is a way to avoid this problem: Dehorn your cattle for safe handling and cattle management.  Dehorning of cattle is the process of removing either a part of, or the entire set of horns of a cow/bull. This is done through a variety of methods.

Explained—3 common methods of dehorning cattle

The three most common methods of dehorning cattle are:

  1. Tipping: Removing only the tips of the horns
  2. Manual dehorning: removing the entire horn mechanically/clipping/sawing
  3. Dehorning by banding: removing the entire horn through the placement of very tight rubberised bands around the base of the horn.

Removal of horns has become a common practice among farmers. For the cattle however, the process of removing the horns can be stressful, painful and sometimes even traumatic. For this reason, many farmers prefer to farm with and breed cattle that naturally do not have any horns. For example, at the Firth Group, most of our cattle are of the Brangus breed, which do not have any horns.

By breeding cattle without any horns, the entire dehorning process is unnecessary, meaning also, that the cattle don’t have to endure the oftentimes uncomfortable dehorning experience.

This is not always an option though, so when you have to make use of a dehorning method, there are a few things to consider:

  • The pain/discomfort/trauma that the cattle goes through
  • The risk of infection through the wound

Banding technique—The preferred dehorning process

The old-fashioned way of removing the horns through clipping or sawing them off can be painful for the cattle and even have a long-lasting traumatic effect—not to mention the risk of infection that such a gaping wound would pose.

At Firth Red Brangus and Firth Wagyu, we employ the use of the more favorable—eco-friendly—banding technique. This technique is a far less painful and efficient way of removing the horns. Recommended by local and global farmers, this new way of dehorning cattle seems to be well on its way to becoming the new normal for farmers all around the world.

Banding technique—How it works

So, how exactly does this dehorning process by banding actually work?

Firstly, the cattle are rounded-up and moved into a corral. Then, the cattle are lined-up in a press, directly in front of a head clamp—which they enter, one at a time. When a cow or bull puts its head through the head clamp, the workers place thick rubberised bands around their horns (making sure to put it as close to the skull as possible) in order to isolate as much of the horn as possible. A fastener is used to tighten these rubberised bands.

Rubberised horn at base of horn 1
Seen here, a rubberised band is placed around the horn, as close to the base as possible.

The bands restrict the blood-flow within the horn, resulting in necrosis (loss of blood-flow which causes the cells to die off). After a few weeks, the horn will naturally fall off due to the reduced blood-flow. Some of the bands will unexpectedly snap off, or be scraped off by the cattle. If this happens, cattle-handlers will simply repeat the banding process.

Our experience—and that of other farmers we have talked to—strongly suggests that the banding technique is less painful, stressful and traumatic for the cattle, since it involves a gradual process that happens over a period of weeks—which is, the exact opposite of the more traumatic manual dehorning process which requires sawing the horn off at once (a brute force method which is undesired).   

The risk of infection through the wound

The banding method has a reduced risk of infection when compared with other methods of dehorning: the bands will also naturally close the wound (where the horn once was) whilst other methods—such as manual dehorning with a saw, leaves a large gaping wound that is exposed and susceptible to infection. Additionally, we have noted that there was no increase in the number of flies that bothered the cattle after the rubberised bands were applied to the cattle’s horns.

1 horn on and other fallen off 1
Seen here, one of the horns on this cow has already fallen off. It's usually only a matter of time before both horns would have fallen off, leaving the cow with no visible horns anymore.

Additional advantages of the banding method

Simply applying rubberised bands to cattle’s horns is much less labour-intensive than actually having to remove the horn with force. This speeds up the initial process because it takes much less time and is far easier to perform.

Horn fallen off 1
Lying on the ground, a horn that has 'fallen off' after the banding removal procedure was used to remove the horn.

Since it is a rather quick procedure to apply the rubberised bands, the cattle don’t even notice it—as such, they are not at all traumatised by the process. Once applied to the horn, the bands remain in place sufficiently long enough to serve its intended purpose. This allows the animal’s body time to respond to the changes taking place. Necrosis sets in and removes the horn for you. Additionally, it is significantly less stressful for the cattle as they are not manhandled during dehorning.

Conclusion—Green-friendly sustainable farming that cares

After the dehorning process is completed, you are left with cattle that are much easier to manage. As such, you have also managed to successfully reduce the risk of injury to yourself, your workers and your animals. Farming isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t always have to be hard. The dehorning by rubberised bands technique lends itself to green-friendly sustainable farming that cares.

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