Portability, convenience and ease of use are the main considerations when choosing
a new calf debudding iron. Mervyn Bailey gives a run down on what is on offer
HANDLING cattle which have lengthy horns only makes a bad job worse. That, plus animal welfare considerations and the reluctance of marts to accept horned cattle, makes debudding animals at a young age a routine operation for most producers.
The humble heated iron of old has largely been superseded by self-contained designs that are easier and more convenient to use. They can be gas fuelled or electric powered, with butane or propane models available. These are either attached to a gas bottle or have a hand piece with built-in reservoir.
There is also the alternative method of using a caustic paste that dissolves the horn over time, with no need for a heated iron.
Although self-contained heating irons need to be refuelled periodically, these units are finding favour among producers because they are easier to set up to do one or two calves, which previously required a gas bottle to be lugged around or an electric lead dragged across the mucky yard. Fuelled by cigarette lighter fluid, the hand pieces can still heat the tips to an effective working temperature of 600C.
The Calf Dehorner MkII from Ritchey Tagg has a range of optional tips. The standard one is suitable for young calves, while slightly older animals may require the wide tip.
Push-button gas ignition makes the instrument easy to fire-up and Ritchey Tagg claims the gas reservoir should last for up to an hour of continuous use. Soldering tips are also available, so the implement can also be used to make light electrical repairs.
The Portable Dehorner from Cox uses a two-stage switch to get the gas flowing and to then ignite it. Once the tip has heated through, the gas can be turned up or down to set the temperature.
A pistol shaped grip is used on the gas bottle-fed Probud Gas Dehorner from Fearing International. Propane or butane gas enters through the handle to fuel the heating element. Two brass cauterising tips are supplied, measuring 14mm (0.6in) and 20mm (0.8in) diameter to suit animals of different ages.
The straight handle models from Cox can be fitted with either propane or butane regulators or with direct gas flow. All use a copper tip to apply heat to the horn.
Electric powered models are also available from Cox in two sizes, 15mm (0.6in) and 20mm (0.8in) diameter. These use a comfort grip handle positioned behind the iron with replaceable tips sold separately.
Fire heated dehorners are still popular with producers who have a small number of stock and believe an electric or gas dehorner would not be justified. Normally heated in a coal fire, the tip will stay hot enough to treat three or four calves. Cox includes one such iron in its range, with a large copper head.
Hornex Europe offers an alternative to the cauterising iron, in the form of a chemical paste. This largely consists of sodium hydroxide, which burns away the horn root.
The product is best used on calves which are one or two days old, says Hornex. As normal, hair surrounding the horn bud is trimmed back, the wax scraped off the bud and paste rubbed in well. However, as with hot iron treatment, if part of the root is left intact, it will regrow.
The paste is supplied in 25g containers with each tub treating approximately 40 animals.
For older cattle with well-developed horns, dehorning wire is one of the few effective methods of removal. It should also be safer than tackling the job with a saw. Different gauges of wire are available, with steel handles to make the job of sawing a lot easier.
Cox supplies the wire in 10.5m rolls for cutting to the appropriate length when required. *
• Gas or electric irons.
• Paste alternative.
• Wire for grown horns.
• Cox (01207-529000).
• Fearing International (01604-881491).
• Hornex Europe (01313-324763).
• Ritchey Tagg (01765-689541).
Ritchey Taggs upgraded Calf Dehorner has a larger capacity lighter fuel reservoir, allowing it to be used for up to one hour without being refilled.
Dehorning equipment from Cox includes direct flow gas-fuelled irons (left) which can be fitted with a regulator to reduce the gas consumed once the tip is at working temperature; mains electric-powered versions (right); and a traditional fire heated iron (centre).