Branding, dehorning and castration are painful, but pain is very difficult to measure in beef cattle. This also makes it difficult to know whether anesthetic or analgesic pain control drugs are effective in cattle. In prey species, displaying weakness attracts predators so cattle have evolved to mask signs of pain. While they may be a stoic animal, there’s no doubt cattle experience varying degrees of discomfort during some routine management practices. The age of the animal, technique of procedure used, and use of pain medication all have an impact on pain.
The latest video in the Beef Research School features
John Campbell, DMV, DVSc at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Campbell explains the importance of castrating, dehorning, and branding calves as young as possible. These procedures are much less invasive in young animals because the wound is smaller, there is less blood loss, young calves recover more quickly, and there is evidence that younger calves may experience less pain during these operations. He also explains the use of pain mitigating drugs.
Because pain in beef cattle is not fully understood, research proposed under the Beef Science Cluster under Growing Forward II will evaluate the relative impacts of age, technique, and pain medication when preweaning beef calves are castrated at the same time as branding or as a separate procedure. This research will generate science-based recommendations regarding the best age to carry out painful routine management procedures and identify target ages which may require pain mitigation. This information is required to make sound industry recommendations in the national Beef Code of Practice, and abate public pressure that can lead to unsound recommendations.
Stay tuned for more episodes of the Beef Research School. Past episodes covered antimicrobial resistance, ruminal acidosis, and footrot and other lameness. For more information on the Beef Research School, visit www.beefresearch.ca/blog/new-video-series/
A painful subject
BCRC Blog | BeefResearch.ca
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