Dehorning and welfare indicators in beef cattle - a meta analysis

MEA Canozzi, A Mederos, SP Turner, X Manteca, C McManus, SRO Menegassi, JOJ Barcellos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
193 Downloads (Pure)


Dehorning is a common practice in cattle farming. Researchers suggest that pain during dehorning can be mitigated, although there is no conclusive evidence about the best technique and the best manner of pain relief. A systematic review-meta-analysis was performed to clarify the effect of dehorning on welfare indicators (cortisol concentration or average daily gain or vocalisation) in beef cattle up to 12 months of age. Five electronic databases were systematically searched, as well as conference proceedings and experts were contacted electronically. Pre-defined protocols were applied during all steps of the systematic review process. A random effect meta-analysis was conducted for each indicator separately with the mean of the control and treated groups. Four publications reporting seven studies and 69 trials were included in the MA involving 287 cattle. Heterogeneity between studies was observed for cortisol (I2 = 50.5%), average daily gain (I2 = 70.5%), and vocalisation (I2 = 91.9%). When comparing the non-dehorned group with amputation dehorning, the cortisol concentration was lower 30 min (P < 0.0001) and 120 min (P = 0.023) after procedure (0.767 nmol/L and 0.680 nmol/L, respectively). Local anaesthesia did not show a reduction in cortisol concentration at 30 min after dehorning by amputation. Non-dehorned animals had a tendency to decrease the number of vocalisation (P = 0.081; MD = 0.929) compared with the group dehorned by amputation. These results suggest that dehorning is a painful experience and that local anaesthesia did not alleviate short-term pain following dehorning. Further investigation into pain relief is required to improve confident decision making under practical conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)801-814
JournalAnimal Production Science
Issue number5
Early online date30 May 2018
Publication statusFirst published - 30 May 2018

Bibliographical note



  • Animal analgesics
  • Animal pain
  • Animal welfare
  • Cattle


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