News & Advice

Give your calves the best pain relief this disbudding season

Jul 15, 2022 | Dairy, Dairy Animal Health & Welfare, Grazing youngstock, Young Stock

Julia Baynes, Anexa Vets Morrinsville

Calving is upon us, and now is the time to think about booking your calf disbudding.

Hopefully, all farmers are now aware that under animal welfare laws, calves require an effective local anaesthetic nerve block for the removal of horn buds. Disbudding is one of the most painful procedures performed on-farm, and we should all be supportive of this improvement to animal welfare.

However, if you personally have had a procedure done under local anaesthetic, you know that it only lasts for so long until pain returns. This is also true for disbudded calves.

A 2020 research review looking at pain relief for calf disbudding concluded that local anaesthetic alone led to a reduced pain response (measured by cortisol – the stress hormone) until between 2 and 4 hours after disbudding. The pain response had increased at 4 hours after disbudding, indicating that the local anaesthetic had worn off.

At this point, we see disbudded calves exhibiting pain behaviours: rubbing their heads (and making the bud sites bleed), scratching at their bud sites, and being slow to feed and recover – which can lead to a growth check.

The same research review concluded that when calves are administered both a local anaesthetic and an anti-inflammatory drug such as Metacam at the time of disbudding, disbudded calves had a reduced pain response 4 hours after disbudding and pain behaviours were also reduced 6 hours post disbudding. Metacam has been shown to give up to 24 hours of pain relief and 72 hours of anti-inflammatory action in cattle.

Our farmers who already give their calves a Metacam injection at disbudding have seen the results for themselves: calves bounce back quicker, feed more readily, and don’t traumatise their bud sites allowing for better healing.

In addition, sedation of calves at the time of disbudding reduces the stress for your animals during this procedure and promotes better recovery. It’s a quick and effective method of disbudding, allowing other jobs to be done at the same time, such as vaccinating, ear notching, ear tagging, and extra teat removal in dairy calves.

Anexa Vets recommends doing the best for your calves this disbudding season:

Sedation + Local anaesthetic blocks + Metacam 

Additional services we offer at the time of disbudding include:

  • 6-in-1 vaccination – protect against clostridial infections that can cause sudden death
  • BVD ear notching – this is really important to find PI calves on your farm early, especially if your herd was positive for BVD virus in your bulk milk test last season.
  • Extra teat removals

To find out more about our calf disbudding service, speak to your Anexa vet or click here.

To find out more about why BVD ear notching is important in protecting your herd from this costly disease, watch our video.


Book your calf disbudding online now

Calf Disbudding

Other resources you may find helpful:

Take the pain out of disbudding calves this season

Rearing Beef calves


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