Ask the Vet

Pain Management Key for Calf Care

Animals perform better when good pain management is used, and there are several options to consider. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Thinkstock/iStock)

Question: I raise dairy calves and usually dehorn/castrate at about 1 month of age. I've read about meloxicam and was wondering if it is recommended for young calves?

Answer: I think both local anesthetics and meloxicam can and should be used in the practices of dehorning and castration. All of these products are prescription drugs, so you must get them from your veterinarian.

I highly recommend you talk with your veterinarian about pain control for these calves. Oral pain medication is very easy to administer; always keep top of mind that you must follow the proper withholding times. Meloxicam is not licensed for use in cattle at this point in the U.S., but when proper withholding periods are observed, extra label use is allowed on order of a veterinarian under the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act. The meat withholding time of 21 days is currently recommended after a single dose. I realize this is a lot of legal talk, but we must follow the FDA guidelines, or this very important privilege could be lost.

Local anesthetic use has a steeper learning curve, but your veterinarian should be able to demonstrate how to properly administer it. The American Association of Bovine Practitioners has an excellent guide on pain control for dehorning and castration. It is available at www.aabp.org/resources/AABP_Guidelines/Castration_and_Dehorning_Guidelines_app3.2014_03.17.2014.pdf.

I am amazed at just how much easier good pain management makes these procedures. My observations and the data support that animals perform much better when pain management is used. It is the right thing to do, and it is money in the bank, as well. That's a win-win in my book.

(VM/CZ)