Dehorning or disbudding is the process of removing or stopping the growth of horns in livestock to reduce the risk of injury to themselves, other animals and their handlers. Breeding polled (hornless) livestock removes the need to dehorn, which is why it’s a key focus for the industry.
Livestock without horns:
Dehorning, however, is costly and labour-intensive, and causes pain and distress to the animal. This is why the Australian red meat industry is breeding polled animals.
Legislation regarding dehorning, disbudding and horn trimming varies for each state and territory – including the maximum age that livestock can be dehorned or disbudded, or have their horns trimmed without pain relief. In addition:
The development of effective and practical pain relief treatments has been a major advance in alleviating the pain animals experience during animal husbandry practices such as castration, dehorning, mulesing, tail docking and de-horning. The adoption of the use of pain relief for surgical husbandry is increasing each year.
Breeding polled livestock is seen as a long-term solution to problems commonly associated with horns. These days, most cattle are bred without horns to reduce the need to dehorn calves. In fact, 73% of the national cattle herd is genetically polled. (Source)
Breeding for a polled herd or flock offers a range of benefits across the supply chain, including:
Genetic tools have recently become available to allow breeders to identify cattle and sheep that will produce offspring without horns. There are poll gene marker tests available to enable producers to accurately breed out horns from their herd or flock, removing the need to dehorn. This is an important step towards increasing the percentage of polled animals cattle within Australian.