Dehorning is the process of removing the horns or the sensitive horn tissue from cows’ skulls using searing-hot irons, caustic chemicals, blades, or hand saws. Most cows in the commercial dairy industry are dehorned.

dairy cow being dehornedAnimals often struggle violently and have to be restrained during this painful process, which is frequently performed without any anesthetics or painkillers and results in severe pain that lasts for hours and can even become chronic.


One type of dehorning (sometimes called “debudding”)  involves burning or gouging out the horn tissue in young calves’ skulls before their horns have developed. This procedure is extremely painful and traumatic to young calves, who are often just a few weeks old.

dairy cow dehorning tool

Farmers destroy horn buds in calves with a red-hot iron, which is pressed firmly into the animal’s skull where their horns would grow, causing a cloud of smoke to rise as their flesh is burned.

Another type of dehorning is performed on cows who have already developed horns. Farmers amputate the horns, which are already attached to the cows’ skull and full of nerves and blood vessels, using saws, sharp wires, or “guillotine” dehorners.


The wounds caused by this painful amputation can take three months or more to heal.

peta2 dairy cow dehorning tool

Farmers may remove developed horns with a barbaric device known as a “keystone” or “guillotine” dehorner.

Workers dehorn cows so they don’t injure each other or humans as a result of the emotional distress and unnatural conditions they’re forced to endure on factory farms—which include being packed into living areas with thousands of other animals, forced to live amid their own waste, forcibly impregnated, and hauled off to slaughter once their milk production slows.

What You Can Do

Although some companies have started breeding naturally hornless cattle, the only way to be sure that you aren’t supporting cows’ suffering is to stop buying and eating dairy products.

Cattle dehorning
Mercy for Animals 

With all the delicious and easy-to-find vegan milk, ice cream, and cheese that’s out there, there’s no reason to support this cruel industry. Even places like Taco Bell, Starbucks and Papa John’s Pizza have tons of vegan options. Together we can help cows. Go vegan today!

To get started, check out our vegan cheese guide.

learn more about vegan cheese

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