Cattle – surgical/non-surgical procedures
Horn amputation is a routine practice carried out by cattle farmers on calves but also full grown cattle, to save farmers any cost from bruising, hide damage and other injuries.
Calves endure this painful, cruel and offensive act without any sedation or local anaesthesia. It is unimaginable that these procedures would be undertaken on animals in Australia without pain relief but again farmers maintain that dehorning is essential for the animals’ wellbeing. In Europe sedation and local anaesthesia is administered by veterinarians prior to any such procedure.
It is more common to dehorn calves than grown cattle because the ‘buds’ are small and not yet fully attached to the head whereas with cattle dehorning can result in serious blood loss when large horns are removed.
The horn grows from the skin around its base in much the same way as the wall of the hoof grows down from the skin of the coronet of the foot. In young calves up to about two months of age, the horn bud is free-floating in the skin layer above the skull. As the calf grows older, the horn bud attaches to the skull and a small horn starts to grow. Dehorning is performed before this attachment to the skull occurs.
There are various methods, two of which are the hot iron and knife. The hot iron burns through the full thickness of the skin and tissue surrounding the bud. The bud eventually falls off. Using a knife the cut starts about 2cm away from the bud cutting right through the through the skin and tissue as the cut moves through the bud.
We wish to stress to you, both methods; performed WITHOUT sedation and local anaesthesia are known to be extremely stressful and painful for the young calves.
Female calves in some particularly remote and extensive properties (especially in Queensland and the Northern Territory) may be ‘spayed’ without analgesia to prevent pregnancies.
Flank spaying involves entering the abdomen through a cut made in the flank of the animal. When performed without anaesthesia there is a level of pain and distress to the animal that is totally unacceptable. In nearly all instances this procedure is performed WITHOUT anaesthesia.
In heifers and undeveloped cows, passage spaying by hand is only possible with the aid of a mechanical device to spread the vaginal passage. This procedure inflicts extreme pain to the animal and causes irreparable damage to the vagina. The greater proportion of spaying is performed on undeveloped cattle where the procedure requires the use of spreaders.
Another method, the Willis Technique, is increasingly being used in the Northern Territory and Queensland. This method involves an operator placing his/her arm into the back passage of the calf and cutting the ovaries out. Again, no analgesia or anaesthesia is used, and the operators must be highly skilled to avoid internal damage and infections.
None of these ‘proceedures’ is performed using anaesthetic or analgesic follow-up. Rarely are they carried out by veterinary surgeons; most being undertaken by unqualified untrained workers.
Despite advances in technology, many thousands of cattle are still identified by branding using hot irons. A red hot iron is placed on the skin for several seconds to burn the skin sufficiently to leave a permanent identifiable mark. Even capturing and restraining calves/cattle for this procedure is stressful. Freeze branding has been shown to cause less pain and distress, but still requires mustering, yarding and restraint.
More appropriate identification methods must be adopted and will include ear tattoos, electronic receivers in ear tags, and microchips (already being used extensively with companion animals).
Male cattle, unless they are to be used for breeding, will normally be castrated early in life (to become ‘steers’). The procedure is to cut open the scrotum and remove the testes, or alternatively to place a strong rubber ring around the top of the scrotum. It will wither from lack of blood supply and fall off. The calves react violently, kicking their legs and stamping – indicating their pain. The relevant Model Code of Practice allows the use of rubber rings up until the age of 2 weeks, but allows castration by knife (or burdizzo, an implement which crushes the testes) until the age of 6 months.
The CSIRO has developed a vaccine (Vaxstrate) which immunizes cattle (male and female), affecting their reproductive hormones and preventing conception. Regrettably this is not widely used, particularly due to the need for two injections and thus the animals must be mustered twice – a task that is not cost-effective and therefore not welcomed by farmers on extensive properties.
Female calves in some particularly remote and extensive properties (especially Queensland and the Northern Territory) may be ‘spayed’ without analgesia to prevent pregnancies caused by ‘scrub’ bulls, and which would make survival difficult for pregnant cattle in poor grazing areas. Graziers are also likely to be able to market cows which have therefore gained more weight prior to muster.
Electric shock treatment for animals by farmers:
What is electro-immobilisation?
(Note: spelling of term varies; e.g. electro-immobilisation, electroimmobilisation, electro-immobilization, electroimmobilization etc)
Electro-immobilisation is the use of pulsed, low frequency electrical current to produce restraint of an animal. It produces tetanic contractions* of skeletal muscles and therefore voluntary movement is not possible. Movement is regained as soon as the current is switched off.(* Fusion of a number of simple spasms into an apparently smooth, continuous effort, is known as tetanic contraction.)
Throughout the electro-immobilisation process, the animal remains completely consious.
This photo shows an animal frothing at the mouth during electro-immobilisation
(Photo copyright Animal Liberation NSW Australia)
Electro-immobilisation should not be confused with electric stunning which, when applied correctly, causes a high amperage current to be passed through the brain, rendering the animal instantly unconscious. When electro-immobilisation is used, a small current is passed through the body, paralysing the muscles but not making the animal unconscious.
What equipment is used?
Electro-immobilisation equipment consists of a unit that produces the electrical current (this looks a bit like a large torch), and then wires with attachments to be put on to the animal.
How is electro-immobilisation carried out?
There are three main methods of electro-immobilisation that can be used:
- Nose-to-tail or head to tail. Electrodes are attached to the head of the animals usually via an electrode clip attached to the corner of the mouth or cheek and also to the caudal fold on the tail of the animal using a needle.
- Back-to-tail. Electrodes are inserted above the lumbar vertebra and through the caudal fold of the tail.
- Rectally. An electrode is inserted into the rectum.
The current is then switched on at a low current. The current is then increased, resulting in immobility and rigidity of the animal. Sometimes this paralyses the animal's respiratory muscles and the animal stops breathing. The current must then be reduced and the animal will start to breath again. Breathing is often laboured. Use of excessive current can lead to death.
This photo shows electro-immobilisation in use.
(Photo copyright Animal Liberation NSW Australia)
What animals is electro-immobilisation used on?
Electro-immobilisation can potentially be used on a range of species such as cattle, deer and sheep. In the Republic of Ireland, electro-immobilisation is used mainly on cattle.
This photo shows an animal's eye rolling back as electro-immobilisation is applied.
(Photo copyright Animal Liberation NSW Australia)
What is electro-immobilisation used for,
Electro-immobilisation is used to make animals that are hard to handle stay still while procedures such as dehorning are carried out. Even though a local anesthetic may be used for some procedures, it is the electro-immobilisation process itself that animals find distressing.
Is electro-immobilisation legal in other countries?
Electro-immobilisation is prohibited in England under “The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 (Statutory Instrument 2000 No. 1870)”. This says: "No person shall apply an electrical current to any animals for the purposes of immobilisation." (Schedule 1, paragraph 30). It is understood that similar legislation exists for the rest of the UK.
Electro-immobilisers are banned in New South Wales, Australia, except when used by specifically trained veterinarians during procedures where analgesia or anaesthesia is not required. Tasmania has similar restrictions to New South Wales.
The European Union has not banned electro-immobilisation. However, a restriction for its use is provided in Article 3 of Council Directive 98/58/EC on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes: "Member States shall make provision to ensure that the owners or keepers take all responsible steps to ensure the welfare of animals under their care and to ensure that those animals are not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury."
Why should electro-immobilisation be banned
The science shows that animals find electro-immobilisation aversive, physically stressful, psychologically stressful, noxious and unpleasant (see references below).
There is no need for this inhumane form of restraint. Procedures such as dehorning should be carried out when an animal is young so that extreme forms of restraint, such as electro-immobilisation, are not necessary.
With regard to de-horning of cattle, there is no need for electro-immobilisation to be used. Instead, these animals could be disbudded when they are young calves, being easy to handle at this age.
Because electro-immobilisation renders the animal unable to move, there is a risk that unscrupulous people (not vets) could subject animals to painful procedures without the use of a local anasthetic or painkillers.
(Thank you to CIWF for this information)