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Castration, disbudding and tail docking - not nice but necessary!

For just about as long as animals have been farmed, they’ve been routinely subjected to several painful husbandry/surgical procedures that make it easier for their owners to manage them - and they may make life easier for the animals too.

Castration helps curb the natural aggression of bulls, rams and bucks and prevents unwanted pregnancies.

Disbudding or dehorning in older animals makes it safer for people to handle cattle and goats, and makes it less likely they will injure each other. Disbudding causes less pain for the animal than dehorning, as it involves less trauma to tissue, is done at a younger age, and heals quickly. It is best practice to use local anaesthetic for both procedures, and it will be a legal requirement from 1 October 2019. Recommended best practice in the Sheep and Beef Cattle Code of Welfare is to disbud rather than dehorn.

Tail docking of lambs helps keep the tail end of sheep clean, reducing the risk of flystrike.


Castration, disbudding/dehorning and tail docking are painful procedures and you can minimise pain and distress to the animal if they are performed while the animal is young.

All these procedures require skill, and owners should consult a veterinarian or experienced stock handler to make sure they know how to do the job properly. The Painful Husbandry Procedures Code of Welfare contains a lot of useful information. You can find this at www.mpi.govt.nz/codes-of-welfare

For calves and goat kids, castration and disbudding can be carried out at the same time, and as they both cause pain, the double procedure is best carried out by a veterinarian who can use sedatives, pain killers and/or anaesthetics. From 1 October 2019, you must use local anaesthetic when disbudding or dehorning cattle.

Lambs can be castrated and docked at the same time and the use of pain relief is recommended best practice. Use of rubber rings at 1 to 2 weeks of age will cause less pain and distress to the lambs, and healing happens more quickly than for older lambs. If you castrate your lambs over 6 months of age, you must use local anaesthetic.

If you decide to use a high tension band (where the latex band is mechanically tightened to a high tension) for castrating lambs or calves, you must use local anaesthetic, regardless of the age of the lamb or calf.

Always remember to check your animals for signs of post-operative complications.

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