Pain relief during castration and dehorning project

Conducting surgical husbandry procedures on beef cattle is sometimes necessary. Practically and effectively managing any potential pain and welfare impact associated with these procedures is critical to support the continued development of sustainable beef production systems and has received increased emphasis in recent years. Several bovine pain relief products are now commercially available to producers and have been increasingly adopted by industry in recent years. However, despite the increased adoption, further information on how to effectively integrate their application in extensive beef production systems and quantifying the resulting welfare impact, production benefit and cost-benefit is needed to support increased understanding and adoption.

The Northern Territory Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (DITT), in collaboration with Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF),  and the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) are trialling the use of pain relief on commercial properties across northern Australia. Funded by Meat and Livestock Australia, this project will evaluate the effectiveness and long-term production benefits associated with providing pain relief around the time of castration and dehorning in young cattle at their first muster, while facilitating increased knowledge and skills for implementing best-practice techniques.

Currently, DITT is recruiting collaborators for this research activity. If you are interested in participating, please see below for information on how to get involved!



  1. Evaluate the effectiveness of providing pain relief during the standard husbandry practices of castration and dehorning for providing welfare and production benefits
  2. Up-skill participating producers on best practice techniques during routine husbandry procedures

Trial Design

Participating properties will be asked to supply between 300-600 calves to be castrated and/or dehorned. The DITT will provide the pain relief products and a member of the DITT Livestock Team will be there on the day to record animal information. This study is designed to coincide with normal mustering and calf marking times for properties. Prior to castration/dehorning, calves will need to be able to be weighed and tagged with either an NLIS tag or management tag with a unique number, so each individual animal’s weight change can be monitored. Calves will be randomly allocated to one of four treatment groups;

  • Control (no pain relief – current industry standard)
  • Trisolfen®
  • Meloxicam® (injectable)
  • Trisolfen® and Meloxicam®

Calves will be monitored in the yards in the hours immediately following castration/dehorning by GoPro cameras to record behaviour. Some calves will also be given accelerometer ear tags which will record movements the animal makes to allow for a comparison in behaviour in the days and weeks following the procedure. Calves will be re-weighed 21 days after the procedures, and have all wound sites inspected for stage of healing.

What information and resources will be provided to collaborators?

  • Increased understanding on level of infection after surgical procedures
  • Increased knowledge and skill for effectively alleviating any potential pain associated with conducting surgical procedures
  • All pain relief medications supplied free of charge for the trial cattle
  • Assistance at mustering with processing, application and data collection.

Pilot Study

In 2019 a pilot study commenced on the Northern Territory Government’s Douglas Daly Research Farm. A total of 447 Bos indicus and Bos indicus cross weaners of mixed sex were monitored as part of the study, consisting of 400 dehorned and/or castrated animals and 48 naturally polled heifers. Calf measurements (as described above) were taken at the time of dehorning and/or castration and regularly for a period of 5 months afterwards. Calves were also weaned, branded and vaccinated at this time, as is typical practice for the northern beef industry. The pilot study successfully integrated Trisolfen® and Meloxicam® into standard husbandry procedures. Welfare benefits and production effects were observed during this trial, although the larger numbers will provide more accurate statistical data.

Want to be part of the trial?

If you would like to be part of the trial, or would like some more information, please contact:

Melissa Wooderson (DITT Katherine) on (08) 8973 8476 or email: