Invasive Husbandry Procedures Position Statement


Many routine animal husbandry procedures performed in the dairy and beef industries, such as branding, disbudding, dehorning, and castration, are highly painful, invasive, and raise welfare concerns for consumers. Cattle undergoing these procedures exhibit physiological, neuroendocrine, and behavioral responses indicative of pain and distress.


Producers have historically omitted using pain relief for such procedures, citing economic and logistical reasons. However, the financial outlay involved in using analgesia is small in relation to overall farm costs. Furthermore, given our knowledge of the severity of their impacts, we believe it is imperative that any animal undergoing painful or invasive husbandry procedures be given appropriate analgesics and/or anaesthetics. 


Multi-modal analgesia, such as a combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), local anaesthetics and sedatives, should be employed, this approach being more effective at mitigating pain and distress than use of a single agent.


NSAIDs should be provided for long-term pain relief and should be given approximately 15 minutes prior to the procedure, and in combination with a local anaesthetic. Local anesthetics have a short half-life, so they should always be used in combination with a longer-acting, systemic analgesic.

Sedating animals, such as with xylazine with or without ketamine, can also be an effective way of reducing serum cortisol levels and behavioral indications of distress resulting from invasive procedures.

Cattle should be identified by freeze branding only, in preference to hot-iron branding, due to the significant pain induced by the latter.


Animals should be castrated and disbudded as young as possible, in order to decrease the degree of invasiveness of the procedure, and disbudding should be used as an alternative to dehorning. However, there is increasing evidence that the pain experienced by young animals may have long-term adverse consequences, including altered neurological development and heightened pain sensitivity later in life,  and that young animals may feel pain even more than adults. It is therefore vital that appropriate pain relief be provided at any age. Analgesia should comprise of a combination of long-acting anti-inflammatories and local anaesthetics, and a sedative where necessary to minimise distress, Alternatively, cauterizing dehorning wounds, combined with a local anesthetic will also prevent the normal rise in cortisol.


Sentient recommends that when disbudding is performed, hot-iron disbudding be the preferred method. We agree with The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) that chemical disbudding should never be performed on animals because it is exceptionally painful. Scoop disbudding is also likely to be more painful than hot-iron disbudding. 


Furthermore, due to advancements in our understanding of genetics, dehorning and disbudding cattle are no longer necessary cattle husbandry procedures and must be phased out through the use of genetic selection over an eight year period. 


Polled genes are not associated with production performance or behavioral traits, with polled animals demonstrating growth, carcass quality and reproductive performance traits equivalent to their horned counterparts. Genetic options are a non-invasive, cheaper alternative to preventing horn growth in cattle.Polled cattle can be genetically selected using a range of selection criteria, and bred from so as to reduce the incidence of horns in stock. This has been implemented in the beef industry, with a 58% reduction in beef calves born with horns from 1992 to 2007 in the US. However, this breeding selection has not been adopted by the dairy industry, likely because it is easier and quicker to select for other desired production traits using horned cattle. 


Tipping (rounding of the points) may be an acceptable alternative to dehorning in some circumstances provided that conditions are established to minimise distress, such as use of sedatives and avoiding its application on untamed cattle.


Surgical castration should be performed in preference to rubber ring methods, which are more likely to produce chronic pain and run a greater risk of infection at the site of ring placement.

It is crucial that cattle be handled quietly and calmly to minimise stress when undergoing procedures. Electro-immobilisation is not an acceptable method of restraint. 


We also encourage further research and implementation of alternatives to these invasive procedures, such as breeding for polled cattle, and use of chemical castration methods.