Disbudding calves

Disbudding calves is the most common practice of horn removal on Australian dairy farms.

It is the least painful approach when done correctly. When compared to dehorning older cattle it is less likely to cause infection.

Removal of the horns of cattle is a common welfare procedure designed to lessen injury to the animals, and to handlers of dairy stock.


Dairy Australia has been working with farmers to encourage the disbudding of calves at 6 – 8 weeks of age rather than dehorning cattle at an older age. Survey results report that since the Nation Dairy Industry Animal Welfare Strategy has been in place:

1. Most dairy farmers that disbud their calves do so at the correct age, using proper equipment.

2. Farms disbudding calves (rather than dehorning cows) increased from 77% to 94% between 2005 and 2014.

The following videos show how to disbud calves at less than 2 months of age using the hot iron cautery technique with pain relief:

Disbudding of dairy calves part 1 – setting up

Disbudding of dairy calves part 2 – administration of pain relief

Disbudding of dairy calves part 3 – thermal disbudding 

Quote: Disbudding calves not dehorning cows


“These days, dairy farmers are more likely to disbud calves rather than dehorn. Disbudding at 4-12 weeks is more humane and the animals recover more quickly. In our area, most dairy farmers use commercial services whose staff care about welfare, have the right training and use properly maintained equipment.”

Michael Lee, Branch Manager Maffra, hico Australia

Rearing Healthy Calves

Rearing Healthy Calves - How to raise calves that thrive