This weekend was extremely exciting for Angel Family Farms. After months of preparation, a hefty chunk of change and a LOT of help from some amazing people, our first cattle arrived on the farm! We bought two registered Herefords. One is a 4 year old cow (a female bovine that has already had a calf)named Jewel that is pregnant with a calf that is due in January or February. The other is a heifer (a female bovine that has not had a calf yet)named Schoolgirl that was born in April. We named her Schoolgirl because the house on the farm is an old one room schoolhouse. She won’t be bred for a while yet. Some cattle, like these two, are born polled, or naturally without horns. As long as those cattle are bred with a polled bull, they will have polled calves. We also got a third girl in the herd and she’s a little different.
Ferdinand, whose name was inspired by the children’s book The Story of Ferdinand, is a 5 year old miniature Hereford cow. She was, quite generously, given to us by my cousins, Jenny and Travis. She is an awesome little cow. She is extremely laid back, which is an excellent characteristic for a cow! She also came to our farm with a big, beautiful set of horns.
While her horns are gorgeous and she had never used them to hurt anyone before, there are a big risks involved with having horned cattle. The horns on cattle are bone and can be both intentionally and unintentionally dangerous. If Ferdinand were to get protective of a calf and come after one of us she could seriously injure or even kill one of us without much effort at all. If she tried to assert her dominance over one of the other cattle, she could do the same to them. Not only could she gore someone on purpose, but a toss of her head to scratch an itch or shoo a fly could be dangerous if you were in the wrong spot. We intend to handle Ferdie with relative frequency, so the horns had to go.
Typically, dehorning is done at a very young age before the horn buds attach to the skull. This makes it easier for the person doing the dehorning and also for the calf. Not everyone chooses to dehorn cattle, which is why Ferdie had horns when we got her. Because we want to be able to share our farm story with as many people as possible, we need all of our cattle to be dehorned for safety purposes. Dehorning cattle when they are older is a little more of a challenge because the horns have actually attached to the skull. Before I describe the process I want to remind readers that it is a little graphic, just like any surgery is. Be prepared. I have warned you. Also, remember that the person performing this procedure is a licensed, practicing veterinarian.
The first thing Jonathan did was sedate Ferdinand. Once she laid down he slipped a halter on her and tied the rope to her back foot so she couldn’t pull her head away. She was asleep by this point so she wasn’t going to try to, but safety first. Then Jonathan made sure that he seriously dosed the entire area with lidocaine, which numbs the area. If you have ever had dental work or gotten stitches you know what this stuff is and how well it works. After that he gave her some vaccines that she needed. Then he used a bone saw to cut the horns off right at her skull. Once the horns were off he cauterized any bleeding and sprayed fly spray around the wound so that flies wouldn’t get in it. He gave her a shot of pain meds and then the shot of sedative reversal. A couple minutes later she was up on her feet and moving around. She was still pretty drowsy but still looked better than any person who just woke up after getting their wisdom teeth out. We gave her lots of loving and she really enjoyed that.
Within the hour she was back to munching on hay and staring longingly at the beautiful green grass outside her pen. We kept her in the barn last night to keep her safe and Jonathan let her out this morning.
Dehorning our cow was certainly a choice, but it was a choice we made to protect ourselves, our cows and anyone else who might handle the cattle. A lot of people see pictures like the one right after she got dehorned and immediately freak out because she looks like she’s in really bad shape. They ask out loud “who would do that to that poor cow?!” without bothering to ask things like “How did they do the procedure?” or “Who is safer because this cow doesn’t have horns?”. Asking the right questions and not getting caught in the sensationalism is extremely important! Humans don’t look awesome after they have surgery and neither do cows, but in the long run my herd will be healthier because we took Ferdinand’s horns off. Ferdie was back in the game pretty quick after her horns came off, she was even feeling up to a couple selfies this morning!