It gives me great pleasure to write my first column as the new coordinator of AgriToday, New Era’s premium agricultural section where we discuss, share, and unpack all things agriculture. As I embark upon this journey with you – our esteemed farmers – I will be dedicating a great chunk of my efforts toward making sure that you receive the latest, most informative, and accurate information.
In today’s column, we tackle the issue of whether calves should be dehorned or not.
Many farmers, especially communal cattle breeders who have little say in the mainstream livestock market, are often faced with the dilemma of either dehorning their calves or keeping their horns as is.
In some traditional setups, particularly here in Africa, dehorning calves is against culture and is strictly forbidden in some parts as it represents “bad luck” and many elders believe that it tampers with the fertility rate of the cows.
While our various traditional dealings and ways of life must be respected at all material times, it must also be emphasised that today’s ways and methods of farming are a whole different ball game and requires farmers to act wisely, timely and move with the cheese at all times.
In these times of unstable markets and perennial droughts, it is important for farmers to adapt and adhere to modern ways of farming, as their attitudes and actions will determine the profitability of their farming activities in the long run.
Away from the various traditional restrictions when it comes to dehorning calves, I must also underscore the importance of dehorning one’s calves and share how it adds extra dollars to a farmer’s pockets.
Dehorning can have a tremendous impact on end-product quality and value of feeder/stocker cattle. The presence of horns has a consistently negative effect on the selling price of feeder calves, as they require dehorning when they arrive at the feedlots and that negatively impacts their final selling price, performance and health.
Also, if they are not dehorned, they decrease the value of the entire pen they feed with and that has negative spillover effects on the other farmers. Horned cows can cause damage and injuries to other cattle during transportation to auctions and feedlots, and are often difficult to work with in the handling facilities as they could also injure you in the process.
Profitable cattle farming and marketing involves more than just getting the highest price, it mostly involves the tiny but very important inputs in order to produce the type of calf the market desires, marketing that calf through the best outlet and at the best time and within the set market requirements. Therefore, dehorning becomes highly imperative.
How and where?
But some might ask when and how should one dehorn their calves. Well, the timing and season plays a big role when dehorning your calves, but it must be done as early as medically and naturally possible.
When the calf is young, the horn bud is free-floating and not attached to the skull, and that provides the perfect opportunity to dehorn. As the calf ages, the horn bud attaches to the skull and the horn begins to develop larger and that poses a risk at times.
Dehorning older calves can lead to more infections, longer periods of weight loss and in few instances, death from blood loss. Seasons are another important factor to time when choosing to dehorn, as one would like to avoid flies and unwanted infections.
Also, during dehorning, it is important to have a good handling facility, sanitise the equipment between each calf and make sure bleeding has stopped before releasing the calf. Use blood coagulation powder and fly spray for fast healing.
Until we meet in the kraal again, bye-bye!