Disbudding calves: What you need to know

Where practical, calves should be disbudded while horn development is still at the horn bud stage as the horn buds are not yet attached to the skull.

Consequently, the procedure involves less tissue trauma and is less stressful. According to Teagasc, disbudding is significantly less stressful than the dehorning of older cattle.


Disbudding of calves is carried out to comply with Regulations under the Diseases of Animals Act (1966) which prohibits the sale or export of horned animals.

Disbudding procedures must be carried out in compliance with the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act (1965).

It is illegal to disbud a calf over two weeks old without using a local aesthetic. Veterinary advice is that all calves should be treated with a local aesthetic when disbudding.

Local anaesthetic may be obtained on prescription from veterinary surgeons.

Disbudding calves correctly is unlikely to produce regrowth/’stumps’ preventing welfare problems and possible rejection at marts later in life.

Cattle cannot be marketed with horns. Marts will be guided by the document “Dealing with horns on cattle best practice” when accepting or rejecting animals for sale.


There are several methods for disbudding calves with the mostly commonly used one being cauterisation.

Cauterisation method:
  1. Restrain the calf, preferably using a custom built calf dehorning crate;
  2. Identify the location of buds and administer anesthetic 2-3ml both sides. Consult your vet regarding their procurement and application/administration;
  3. Prior to disbudding it may be useful to clip the hair around the horn bud so that it can be seen easily and a clean burn can be achieved;
  4. Place the hot disbudding iron on the bud and rotate in a half circle 10 or 12 times while applying pressure. Angle the instrument so that the edge burns the skin around the rim of the bud;
  5. Dig out the horn by pressing and moving the head of the iron laterally, leaving a crater in the skin. There may be a small protrusion in the centre of the hollow but this may be left as it is not horn-forming tissue;
  6. Remove the other horn bud in the same manner.