By Alasdair Macnab

Given the current Covid19 social distancing rules how can you carry out routine husbandry operations without close contact?

One of the closest contacts with people is disbudding calves. What are the options? Do nothing? That will lead to a reduction in sale price.

Disbud the calves with a hot iron? That needs you to be in close contact with someone else in most cases.

What about using paste? Paste has been available for years now with varying success. There is a method method which gives very good results. Applying paste before the calf is seven-days-old which can be done at the same time as tagging.

There are principally two types of paste: Sodium Hydroxide (e.g. Hornex) and Potassium Hydroxide (e.g. Dr Laarsen’s Paste). What are the pros and cons?

Sodium Hydroxide is highly caustic and can run down the side of the face and cause scarring. Potassium Hydroxide is not as caustic and tends not to run,

Both are produced as a paste to be applied to the horn bud. Both act by cauterising the skin around the bud destroying the tissue that grows into horn.

A technique that works well is to clip the hair around the horn bud. Use clippers to do this. Scissors will also do the job. It is worth buying a pair of curved scissors which will cut hair without catching skin.

Once clipped put an amount of paste equivalent to a large marrowfat pea onto the end of a flat kitchen knife and apply to the horn bud, spreading to a circle of about a 50p coin around the horn bud. Make sure it is evenly applied. Experience and recording what was applied and the outcome in 6-12 months will tell you if you are applying enough.

Cut two strips of duct tape and place onto the head running from the middle of the poll of the head towards the back of the eye. This will prevent other animals from licking the paste and keep it warm so it works better. It will also protect a cow’s udder.

Remove the tape about 24 hours later or it can be left to fall off itself. There will be a scab present for about six weeks. With Sodium Hydroxide there will be some itching and scratching while healing progresses. This does not seem to be an issue with Potassium Hydroxide.