December 13, 2021 at 8:42 p.m.
“When I first started out, we did a lot of dehorning and castrating on older animals,” Pertzborn said. “I would take the chute out to the farm, and maybe we did it twice a year. It was a big, messy situation, and we did not think about pain control back then. But things are changing now for the better.”
Current industry practices are catching up with consumer concerns which brings pain mitigation to the forefront. Pain mitigation is included in the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management 4.0 program guidelines.
“I would like to think that we know calves experience pain, and we know it is easier on the humans when we use pain control too,” Pertzborn said. “It is better for our bottom lines too. There are studies that show calves gain better when we use pain control and stay healthier.”
The new FARM 4.0 guidelines specify that the practice of disbudding calves should be done prior to 8 weeks of age.
“The sooner the better for dehorning,” Pertzborn said. “I encourage people to do it on day No. 1. After you feed (calves) the colostrum, they are kind of sleepy and not moving much. That is a good time to take advantage and paste the horn buds. When calves are born, the horn bud is not attached to the bone, but if you wait too long, the bone grows into that horn.”
While pain mitigation is becoming increasingly important, one obstacle facing dairy producers is the lack of approved pain control drugs for use in calves. Instead, dairy farmers must work with their veterinarians to establish protocols for pain control medications and become comfortable with the administration of those medications.
When it comes to pain mitigation for calves during dehorning, Pertzborn recommends taking a two-pronged approach. First, use a local anesthetic such as lidocaine that is injected. Then, use a systemic analgesic either given orally (meloxicam) or poured on (Banamine Transdermal).
Pertzborn said the timing between the administration of pain medication and carrying out the procedure is important.
“When the dentist gives you a shot of lidocaine, does he start drilling right away? No, it takes a little while to take effect,” Pertzborn said. “That is one of the cons; it takes a little while.”
Pertzborn said producers should administer pain medication to all the calves needing to be dehorned and then preferably wait half an hour before beginning the dehorning work.
Pertzborn said using lidocaine for pain mitigation prior to procedures such as dehorning or castrating is inexpensive and makes the procedure less stressful for both the animal and for the people treating the animal.
Pertzborn said the two-pronged approach to pain mitigation works well because the effects of the local anesthetic only last for a couple hours before wearing off, leaving the calf dealing with pain after the procedure. But, by administering the oral or transdermal pain medication at the time of the procedure, the medicine can take affect before the lidocaine wears off.
“Meloxicam, for example, is labeled for treating arthritis pain in humans,” Pertzborn said. “But there has been enough research conducted to know it is an excellent drug to use on calves for pain relief. It has a 21-day meat withhold, which is very important, especially with an extra-label usage.”
Pertzborn emphasized working with a veterinarian to ensure proper usage and compliance with any withholding times, particularly with extra-label drug usage.
“Calves, and our dairy cattle in general, to me are just beautiful animals,” Pertzborn said. “They are special gifts to us to use. They are such productive animals, and we are asked to be their caretakers. I think that is a pretty honorable position to be in. The work dairy farmers do, taking care of calves, is just so important. These are wonderful animals, and they deserve to be cared for.”
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