Best Practice Debudding

Debudding calves under sedation

At Franklin Vets we use current best practice techniques for debudding to ensure less stress and pain for the calves, safety for the team and the opportunity to do other jobs at the same time.

Sedating the calves has many benefits:

  • Safer and easier for staff – the calves get an injection into the rump and fall asleep within 5-10 minutes, meaning the farm and vet staff don’t need to catch and push them to the crush
  • Less staff required – we debud with 2 people, the farm staff don’t need to stay
  • Easier to do other jobs – vaccinating, castrating, removing extra teats, DNA or BVD samples, checking infected navels/cheeks/ear tags etc. are much easier when the calf is asleep
  • Less stress for the calves – being in the crush is stressful for calves, they feel the local anaesthetic being injected and see and smell the smoke from debudding. We know that playing and drinking are indicators of calf wellbeing, and in trials, calves who were sedated for debudding played and drank more than their counterparts who were debudded awake. This indicates that sedation is important for decreasing fear and stress at debudding
  • Better growth rates – stress and pain both have an impact on calf growth. Calves who were sedated and given a local anaesthetic in an NZ trial grew an extra 100-120g/day compared to unsedated calves, resulting in a 3-4 kg greater gain over the following month.

Local anaesthetic and shaving the horn buds

  • We shave the horn bud while the local anaesthetic is kicking in – this keeps the wound clean and stops as much smoke from being produced

6-in-1 vaccine and extra teats

  • We urge ALL calves to get vaccinated at or before debudding to prevent clostridial disease
  • While calves are asleep, we can safely snip off extra teats. We also find the occasional case of mastitis in calves and early treatment is vital
  • We castrate calves while they sleep – this limits pain and is safer

Metacam and tetravet spray the buds

  • Metacam is an inbuilt part as we are committed to best practice of animal welfare and veterinary medicine. The use of Metacam and local anaesthetic in combination has been shown to virtually eliminate the expected rise in stress hormones after debudding – this is quite amazing in terms of the ongoing welfare of the calves
  • A local anaesthetic numbs the horn buds for 1-3 hours – after this, the calves feel the burns as strongly as they would without having the local anaesthetic. Metacam controls pain for 3 days after the procedure as well as reduces inflammation at the debud site, which improves healing
  • Tetravet spray “purple spray” is applied to horn buds and removed teats to prevent infection.

Caitlyn Nielsen BVetTech


Franklin Vets

Franklin Vets - excellence in veterinary care for dairy, farming, lifestyle, equine and household pets. BESTPRACTICE ACCREDITED NZ.