Economic considerations of breeding for polled dairy cows versus dehorning in the United States

Nathanael M. Thompson, Nicole Olynk Widmar, Michael M. Schutz, John B. Cole, Christopher A. Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


This paper examines the costs and benefits of selecting for polled dairy heifers versus traditional dehorning practices. Stochastic budgets were developed to analyze the expected costs (EC) associated with polled dairy genetics. The economic assessment was expanded beyond on-farm cash costs by incorporating cost and benefit estimates to generate industry-wide discussion, and preliminary economic evaluations, surrounding the public acceptance and attitude toward polled genetics versus dehorning calves. Triangular distributions, commonly used to represent distributions with limited data, were used to represent labor costs for dehorning, the likelihood of treatment of calf, and the cost of veterinary treatment. In total, 10,000 iterations were run using @Risk v 6.0 (Palisade Corp., Newfield, NY). The EC of the 4 traditional dehorning methods evaluated in this study ranged from $6 to $25/head, with a mean EC around $12 to $13/head. The EC of incorporating polled genetics into a breeding program ranged from $0 to $26/head depending on the additional cost, or premium, associated with polled relative to horned genetics. Estimated breakeven premiums associated with polled genetics indicate that, on average, producers could spend up to $5.95/head and $11.90/head more for heterozygous and homozygous polled genetics, respectively, compared with conventional horned genetics (or $2.08 and $4.17/straw of semen at an assumed average conception rate of 35%). Given the parameters outlined, sensitivity to individual farm semen and dehorning costs are likely to swamp these differences. Beyond on-farm costs, industry-wide discussion may be warranted surrounding the public's acceptance and attitude toward polled genetics versus dehorning or disbudding of calves. The value of avoiding dehorning may be larger for the industry, and perhaps some individual farms, than initially suggested if additional value is put on calf comfort and possible worker aversion to dehorning. If public perception of dehorning influences market access, the EC of dehorning may be large but that cost is unknown at present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4941-4952
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Dairy Science Association


  • consumer perceptions
  • cost-benefit
  • dehorning
  • polled


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