Randomized control trial assessing the efficacy of pain control strategies for caustic paste disbudding in dairy calves younger than 9 days of age

J Dairy Sci. 2020 Aug;103(8):7339-7350. doi: 10.3168/jds.2019-18118. Epub 2020 Jun 3.


Disbudding is a common procedure practiced in the dairy industry and is known to cause pain when performed without pain control. Dairy producers who disbud calves with caustic paste are less likely to provide pain control than those using cautery. Little research has been conducted on pain control for caustic paste disbudding and no studies have specifically examined calves under 9 d of age. The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of local anesthesia and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug analgesia on indicators of pain and inflammation in dairy calves disbudded using caustic paste. One hundred forty Holstein heifer calves 1 to 9 d of age were enrolled in 28 blocks and randomly allocated to 1 of 5 treatments: sham control (SH); positive control (POS); lidocaine cornual nerve block (LC); meloxicam (MEL); and lidocaine cornual nerve block plus meloxicam (LCM). We measured outcomes including serum cortisol and haptoglobin, pressure sensitivity, and lying behavior. Data were analyzed using mixed linear regression models with treatment as a fixed effect, baseline values as a covariate, and trial block as a random effect. Compared with the POS group, the LCM group had reduced serum cortisol at 15, 30, 45, and 60 min post-disbudding; cortisol values were not different between LC, LCM, and SH calves at these time points. At 60, 90, 120, and 180 min post-disbudding, LCM calves had reduced cortisol compared with LC calves, whereas, values did not differ between LCM and SH calves at these time points. At 3 to 4 d post-disbudding, the LCM group tended to have reduced haptoglobin, but no differences were found between groups at 180 min and 7 d post-disbudding. At 60, 90, and 120 min post-disbudding, LC and LCM treated calves had decreased pressure sensitivity compared with other groups. No differences were seen in pressure sensitivity between groups at 180 min, 3 to 4 or 7 d post-disbudding. No differences in lying behavior were found between treatment groups on any of the 7 d following disbudding. These findings demonstrate that the combination of a local anesthetic with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug is beneficial for reducing indicators of pain and inflammation in young calves disbudded with caustic paste.

Keywords: analgesia; anesthesia; inflammation; welfare.