May 15, 2008


 Policy addresses welfare issues of cattle castration, dehorning

By Katie Burns
Posted May 1, 2008
The new and old versions of the AVMA policy
on cattle dehorning and castration encourage
development of better techniques or viable

A new version of the AVMA policy on "Castration and dehorning of cattle" prompted debate during the April meeting of the Executive Board before members approved the revisions.

The previous policy on cattle castration and dehorning supported, in general, procedures that reduce or eliminate pain. The new policy, which the board approved on the recommendation of the Animal Welfare Committee, adds more information about pain control and mentions some preferable procedures.

Dr. James O. Cook, AVMA president-elect, said during the meeting that he would prefer not to be so specific and that procedures should be acceptable if they follow the broad AVMA Animal Welfare Principles.

Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, said the Animal Welfare Committee's perspective is that increasing the amount of guidance in the policy is consistent with the AVMA's commitment to being a scientific resource on issues of animal welfare.

Dr. Golab noted that development of the new policy on cattle castration and dehorning involved a comprehensive scientific review and extensive consultation. Relevant backgrounders—the result of a literature review and input from subject experts—are available online at The AWC solicited comment on the science and practical application from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and Academy of Veterinary Consultants, the latter of which represents beef cattle consultants.

Dr. M. Gatz Riddell, AABP executive vice president, said during the AVMA Executive Board meeting that bovine practitioners had been comfortable with the previous policy but they need to be aware of public opinion on issues such as castration and dehorning—and also cognizant of consumers' lack of familiarity with animal agriculture. He said the science on these procedures supports more specificity in policy.

The new AVMA policy discourages elastrator rubber-banding castration, for example, because of research that indicates an association with chronic pain. The policy states that disbudding is the preferable method for dehorning calves. The policy also cites studies indicating that use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents and local anesthetics reduces pain and distress during castration and dehorning.

Dr. Riddell said bovine practitioners need to be out in front on animal welfare, even though they run the danger of distancing themselves from the cattle industry on some issues. On this particular issue, he added later, he doesn't think bovine practitioners will distance themselves to the point of seeming irrelevant. He said bovine practitioners must work with industry while moving ahead on an issue that can be uncomfortable because of the differing backgrounds of cattle producers and the general public.