Disbudding and Infections

Boaz’s horn nubs started popping through at two weeks so I made an appointment for the vet to come out. Everything went well. Except for one thing: when the vet gave him the sedative I thought I had hold of Boaz tight enough; but when that needle poked him – WHAM! Boaz threw his head. Backwards. And caught the vet right in the mouth. She bit her bottom lip through. I felt so bad. But other than that the rest of the disbudding went well.

Since Boaz is so small she gave him a lower than normal dose of sedative so that it wouldn’t take so long for him to come out of the stupor. In past years it took my other calves over 4 hours to wake up which really had me worried towards the end. The vet gave him a haircut then used an electric disbudding tool which burns the horn at 400 degrees for seconds at a time (if I remember right she said it was 60 seconds). The result is a clean copper ring surrounding the horn and instead of blood the extreme temperature also cauterizes the wound.

Left horn

Left horn

Right horn

Right horn

I kept a watchful eye on his horn nubs. Just to make sure they were healing properly. But Boaz is a clean calf, as far as calves go, so I wasn’t too worried. But two days after his dehorning procedure the left horn was a bit weepy. Thick amber colored fluid filled the inside ring of his horn. I gently wiped the edges of his horn, removing the hard crusts that had stuck to his head. And I applied more of my homemade fly repellant around the horn nubs, being careful not to get any of it in his open wound. (The fly repellant is a base of coconut oil mixed with 30 parts Lemongrass EO and 25 parts Citronella EO; smells disgusting but it works.)

The next day his horn had worsened. I don’t know if something, a tiny speck perhaps, of dirt or who knows what, somehow got in his horn but it was infected. The amber colored fluid was now thick, yellow pus oozing around his horn nub. It had wept during the night and run down part of his head above his eye. His ear was hot and slightly swollen too from where the vet injected him with a local anesthetic. And his head obviously hurt. Boaz held it tipped sideways and every so often would shake it slowly, sticking out his hind foot to tentatively touch it. Poor guy.

Normal calf temperatures range from 100.0-102.5. Boaz had acted slightly off all that day. Not running around. Not playing. Just laying in the corner of the barn. So I figured I should take his temp. And it was 102.7. Only two degrees higher than normal but with calves I don’t take chances. And add in the infected horn nub? Nope. I was NOT taking chances.

I fed him garlic cloves which he chewed and swallowed without a fight. And then with my mom’s help we mixed up a poultice for his horn: turmeric, myrrh, goldenseal and red Kaolin clay powder mixed into a thick paste. This we liberally globbed on his infected nub and used plantain leaves in place of gauze to cover it. Then we wrapped his head and ear with pink vet wrap. Sorry boy. That was all I had in my medicine cabinet. 🙂 He looked so funny! Like he was wearing a football helmet!P1060496


When I changed the bandage the next morning the clay had worked its magic. All the pus had exploded out in a great nasty bubble. I left it alone to air during the day and at night when I separated we again did the bandage. This time though we just covered his horn with plantain and comfrey leaves which we crushed and bruised to release their healing properties. Since I had used all my pink vet wrap I had gone downtown earlier and bought some blue stuff. It was either that or purple or neon green camo. Blue was better.

Morning came again and when I removed the bandage I was surprised to see that the leaves were very damp yet Boaz’s horn was almost dry. I washed it gently; there were still flecks of dried clay stuck to his head and ear, and noticed with pleasure that the inside ring glowed a healthy pink – not angrily red or pussy like before. And since then it has continued to heal over with no further problems. P1060533For some reason, every time I have a disbudding done, one or both horns get infected. Don’t know why. Out of seven calves I have raised, only one had no issues with their horns and that is Briar.

But Boaz is back to being his healthy, playful, silly self. And I know for a fact his head is fine because earlier today I caught him headbutting a guinea hen down the cow lane. The bird just couldn’t run fast enough to escape him. 🙂


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