HOW MUCH extra is a naturally polled beef bull worth, compared with a horned one?

According to an SAC study of the time and other costs to dehorn calves from horned sires, a polled one could save more than 200 over a four-year lifetime, explains beef consultant Basil Lowman.

These savings are based on measuring the time it takes to dehorn calves in a typical farm situation at Easter Howgate. The unit used semen from three Charolais bulls with similar beef values, but two were horned and one polled.

The farm’s staff carefully recorded the total time taken to dehorn each group of calves from the respective bulls, starting from when pens were opened and ending when the gate was shut. “This total labour input worked out at 12 minutes a calf or a throughput of five calves an hour.”

Therefore, using polled bulls in a 100-cow suckler herd producing 90 calves a year could save more than 18 hours work each year.

“When labour is costed at £6/hour, this gives a labour cost alone of £1.20/calf dehorned.” Add the cost of disbudding anaesthetic and gas for the dehorning iron and the total cost is nearer £1.50/calf, says Mr Lowman.

“Assuming a bull sires 30 calves each year and has a working life of four years, the overall saving for the polled bull SAC purchased would be at least £200.”

But he reckons there are added benefits to take into account. This figure ignores the stress disbudding places on the calf, pressure on labour during calving and the poor public image of disbudding calves.