‘Urgent action’ needed on pain relief for calf husbandry tasks

Castrating and disbudding calves without pain relief drugs is a practice becoming less common but still requires “urgent action”, British veterinarians are being told.

A joint position paper from two leading veterinary bodies has called for a combination of analgesia and anaesthesia to manage pain when conducting routine animal husbandry procedures on calves.

The British Veterinary Association and British Cattle Veterinary Association message recommends NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in addition to anaesthesia.

See also: 7-step guide to disbudding calves

Three Rs

  • Replace: Selecting polled sires to replace disbudding
  • Reduce: Using sexed semen to reduce number of make calves needing castration
  • Refine: Refine through using analgesics

This recommendation is on the back of a wide range of research studies showing that analgesics reduce signs of pain after operations and stems from the view that laws are outdated and need to catch up with drugs, science and public opinion. 

Alongside calling for NSAIDs, the paper called for a Three Rs approach in castration and disbudding of replace, reduce and refine.

Analgesia v anaesthesia

  • Analgesia: Dulling or complete mitigation of pain while remaining consciousness
  • Anaesthesia: Dulling or removal of feeling of sensation. Can be conscious, local, regional or general.

“It appears that veterinarians’ awareness of pain in cattle and willingness to use analgesics in general has increased over the past decade,” said John Remnant, a member of BCVA Board and clinical assistant professor in farm animal health and production at the Nottingham Vet School.

“However, while this should be commended, the apparent lack of use of appropriate analgesia specifically in calves undergoing routine husbandry procedures, such as castration and disbudding, requires urgent action.”