Pain relief with debudding

sleeping calves after debudding

With the autumn calving season upon us, we now have an influx of calves being born. Going hand in hand with raising calves is the need to debud them.

Debudding is arguably the most painful procedure we routinely inflict on a calf during its lifetime. While cows are certainly tough animals in the sense that they are great at hiding/coping with pain, this does not mean they have a reduced ability to feel pain. Head shaking, ear twitching and increased heart rates are all signs of pain that can be seen in calves post-debudding.

Research shows that debudding causes immediate pain and inflammatory response that lasts for around 8 hours with the wounds remaining sensitive to the touch for up to 3 days.

Our previous practice has been to give local anaesthetic to numb the area around the horn buds. While this certainly makes a difference, the numbing effect of the local wears off after only 2-3 hours. This means there is a long period of time afterwards when calves are still in pain. Putting yourself in the calf’s position, if you had just had two holes burnt into your head, would you want pain relief for a couple of hours or for a couple of days? I know which option I would choose.

The gold standard for calf debudding, as backed by research and the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA), is a combination of sedation, local anaesthetic and long-acting pain relief.

Considering this, the Franklin Vets team has made an injection of long-acting pain relief part of our standard debudding procedure.

This means that every calf will receive a one-off injection of Metacam at the time of debudding. While it is not compulsory, we will assume you would like your calves to receive additional pain relief unless you specifically opt out of it. Even if you are not using us to debud your calves, we would still strongly recommend the use of long-acting pain relief when this procedure takes place.

Dr Neil Murray, Farm Vet at Paeroa.