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Short communication: Evaluation of the efficacy of novel disbudding methods for dairy calves

Sutherland, M.A., Huddart, F.J., Stewart, M.
Journal of dairy science 2019 v.102 no.1 pp. 666-671
clove oil, cryosurgery, dairy calves, dairy farming, farms, horns, liquids, oils, pain
The objectives of this study were to (1) evaluate whether cryoablation or the administration of clove oil was as efficacious as cautery disbudding at preventing horn growth, and (2) evaluate whether the efficacy of cautery disbudding is affected by removing or leaving the horn bud tissue intact after disbudding of dairy calves. At approximately 4 d of age (4.0 ± 0.88 d of age, mean ± SD), 265 dairy heifer calves from 3 dairy farms (farm 1: n = 129 calves; farm 2: n = 109 calves; farm 3: n = 27 calves) were disbudded. Each calf had 1 of 4 treatments randomly assigned to each horn bud: (1) clove oil (0.5 mL) administered subcutaneously under the horn bud (CLOV, n = 135 buds); (2) a liquid nitrogen–filled probe applied to the horn bud area for 30 s (CRYO, n = 134 buds); (3) cautery disbudding using an electric hot-iron and the horn bud removed (BUDOFF, n = 130); or (4) cautery disbudding and the horn bud tissue left intact (BUDON, n = 131). Calves were assessed for signs of infection at the disbudding site frequently within the first month after disbudding. At approximately 6 mo of age (6 ± 2.2 mo, mean ± SD) calves were assessed for scur or horn growth. The disbudding procedures were considered successful if no scur or horn development was observed. Within the first month, 12% of disbudding wounds showed some indication of infection, such as pus, exudate, or swelling; of the infected buds, 52% were associated with the BUDON treatment, 27% with CLOV, 25% with BUDOFF, and 2% with CRYO treatments. At 6 mo of age, BUDOFF was the most effective method of preventing horn growth and CRYO was the least efficacious [mean percentage of success: BUDOFF: 100% (95% CI: 97.7–100.0); CRYO: 1% (95% CI: 0.2–5.3)]. Injecting clove oil under the horn bud was 87% (95% CI: 80.6–92.5) successful. Not removing the horn bud tissue after cautery disbudding reduced the efficacy of this method by 9% [91% success (95% CI: 83.8–95.7)]; moreover, this method was associated with more infection at the site of disbudding. It appears as though the clove oil treatment could be used as an alternative to cautery disbudding of dairy calves; however, further research is needed to evaluate the tissue damage and associated pain caused by clove oil and to refine this technique (i.e., administration methods to improve efficacy) before it could be considered an alternative to cautery.