Ask the Vet

Dehorning an Adult Cow

Dehorning a mature cow is a painful procedure and depending on the method it can also be costly. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo)


We have a cow we missed dehorning as a calf. She is 4 years old now, and she has really started using those horns on other cows around the feed trough and the hay ring. I've read about using a bander to remove horns, but I've never done this, and I'm not even sure it will work. What do you suggest?


There is no good way to dehorn a mature cow. I have used the old Keystone-type dehorners in the past but will never do that again. It is just not humane in my opinion.

I have tried bands on two occasions without success. There are also reports of complications and delayed bleeding and infection as the band slowly cuts through the horn. I would be interested in hearing peoples' experiences both good and bad using bands, but at this time, I would not recommend them.

One option is cosmetic dehorning, but this is not a cheap option. It is a surgical procedure done by your veterinarian using a mild tranquilizer/pain reliever combination and local anesthesia. The skin is cut away from the base of the horn and a Gigli Wire saw is used to cut the horns smooth with the skull. After controlling the bleeding, the skin is sutured back over the hole. I have had excellent results with this method, and the cattle look polled after they heal. With good pain management, including NSAIDs (flunixin, meloxicam, etc.) during and after surgery, and control of infection and flies, cattle do very well with little or no setbacks.

A less expensive and less invasive option is to "tip" the horns by cutting off 1 to 2 inches. If more than this is removed, both the nerve and blood supply are affected, and it opens the hollow portion of the horn, which directly connects with the sinuses. Infections and maggots can be a problem. It is also extremely painful, so I feel very strongly that these animals need aggressive pain control. Bleeding must be controlled. There are many techniques that have been used to control bleeding including hot irons, round toothpicks into the bleeders in the horn, applying a pressure wrap of gauze taped to the horns and a figure-eight tourniquet around the base of the horns (which must be removed).

Tipping has its drawbacks. While cattle are less dangerous and unlikely to create puncture wounds or put out eyes, they can still use the horns as a weapon leading to bruising and creating issues around the feed bunk or hay ring.

I am a huge advocate of aggressive pain management with any painful procedure in livestock. Even a hot dehorning iron on calves is painful. Local anesthetics are very economical and easy to use. NSAIDs are safe and highly effective in controlling postoperative pain.

We are stewards of the animals under our control, and pain management is the right thing to do. I also believe it is in the producers' best economic interests. Pain costs pounds and pounds are money.

Lastly, while this is not your question, as you move forward with your herd, consider a genetic solution to the dehorning issue. I am a breeder of Polled Herefords, so I have seen firsthand the value of polled genetics to the elimination of this stressful and costly procedure.


Write Dr. Ken McMillan at Ask the Vet, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email