This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.
New Zealand farmers can take pride in being among the first in the world to incorporate higher standards of pain management than minimum legal requirements in routine husbandry procedures like calf disbudding.
Rewind 20 years and the understanding of cow comfort was a very different story – there were virtually no scientific standards to measure wellbeing in farm animals. This encouraged Boehringer Ingelheim to further study the impact of its long-acting anti-inflammatory pain relief Metacam on reducing the pain associated with these essential farming procedures.
Fast-forward to today and it is this research that has led to an understanding that a procedure like disbudding will produce an acute pain response followed by inflammatory pain that extends well beyond the reach of a local anesthetic. Findings also indicate disbudding pain can last for three days after the initial procedure.
The NZ Veterinary Association recommends a combination of products: a local anesthetic, a non-steroidal pain reliever and sedation, as the best approach to managing the pain associated with disbudding.
James Laidlaw, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health veterinarian, says the need to offer a wider suite of pain relief treatments than just the one required under the code of welfare makes sense, given the pain ranking a procedure like disbudding has.
“It is one of the more painful routine practices performed on farms, with the pain occurring in two main phases. One is the initial response immediately after disbudding. The other is the inflammatory phase, which is more prolonged and extends beyond both this initial phase and the effects of local anesthetic.”
Combining a local anesthetic and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relief treatment when disbudding has proven to have a highly positive impact on the animal’s overall pain experience.
“The use of a non-steroidal treatment helps mitigate the inflammatory pain that invariably occurs once the local has worn off.”
Research with Metacam has shown it to be one of the most effective at dealing with inflammatory pain, Laidlaw says, helping to manage and minimise pain in cattle for up to three days after a single injection, covering the period when disbudding pain can last one to two days.
“Studies looking at Metacam globally have shown a single injection 10 minutes prior to disbudding can provide genuine long-term pain relief for these calves, having a significant impact on their comfort and recovery afterwards.”
Further work has also revealed evidence that pain management during disbudding can be associated with better daily weight gains during the recovery phase, and increased milk intake.
Laidlaw says NZ farmers can take pride in their approach to recognising that animals experience pain, and for taking steps to help mitigate that pain.