Removing the horns (dehorning) or horn buds (disbudding) of cattle is considered routine practice. Dehorning or disbudding is performed to reduce the costs associated with muscle (beef) bruising and hide (leather) damage, for ease of handling and to reduce the risks of injury to cattle, stockpeople and working dogs. A hot iron, knife or sharpened scoop is used to remove the horn. As the area at the base of the horn has nerves, the procedure is painful. State legislation makes dehorning of cattle over the age of twelve months illegal unless performed by a veterinarian using anaesthetic and pain relief.

The RSPCA strongly supports the breeding of cattle without horns (poll) to avoid having to perform dehorning or disbudding. Where disbudding and dehorning is performed, the RSPCA believes that all animals must be given an anaesthetic and pain relief.

For more information visit the RSPCA knowledgebase.

Heat stress

Cattle can suffer from heat stress, particularly in hot weather, which can compromise their health, welfare and production. Certain animals are more vulnerable to heat stress, including the very young, sick, heavily pregnant and those with dark coloured coats. The RSPCA believes that all animals should be provided, at the very minimum, with cool clean water and adequate shade. Handling, husbandry procedures and transporting cattle should be avoided in extreme heat. 

For more information visit the RSPCA knowledgebase.


Bobby calves 

Generally within 24 hours of birth, newborn dairy calves including all males and some females are removed from their mothers. During this time, young calves are very susceptible to stress and disease. All male calves and some female calves will be regarded as surplus (bobby calves). 

During transport and holding, they are often stressed especially due to separation from their mothers, the unfamiliarity with handling and transport and food deprivation. The RSPCA does not support the practice of transporting young bobby calves for slaughter at such a young age due to welfare issues associated with handling, transport and feed deprivation. 

For more information on bobby calves visit the RSPCA knowledgebase.

Inducing calving 

Administering a drug to dairy cows to make them give birth prematurely (calving induction) is carried out by some dairy farmers to make sure the milking herd ‘comes into milk’ over a set period of time. The RSPCA is opposed to induced calving as it causes welfare problems for both cow and calf including calf death and risk of health complications for the cow. Fortunately, the practice is uncommon and the Australian dairy industry has made a commitment for all farmers to phase out calving induction by 1 January, 2022. 

For more information on inducing calving visit the RSPCA knowledgebase.


Udder infection (mastitis) is one of the most important health and welfare issues affecting dairy cows. It also reduces the quality and amount of milk produced. Factors that contribute to mastitis include hygiene and other procedures at milking. Higher producing dairy cows tend to be at greater risk of mastitis. The condition can be very painful so good dairy management (e.g. good hygiene and careful handling at milking) are important to reduce the risk of mastitis and ensure that, when it does occur, it is detected early and treated promptly. 

For more information on mastitis in dairy cows visit the RSPCA knowledgebase.


Lameness is a common problem in dairy cows because cows often have to walk long distances to the milking shed, traverse slippery wet floors and also stand for long periods on hard concrete. Other contributing factors include nutrition and handling for example if the cows are moved too quickly. Lameness is painful so the RSPCA believes that good dairy cow management must aim to reduce the causes of lameness and ensure that, when it does occur, it is picked up and treated promptly.

For more information on lameness in dairy cows visit the RSPCA knowledgebase.


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