Supervisors: Dr Nicola Blackie and Ms Sophie Mahendran  

Department: Pathobiology and Population Sciences 

Project Details

Calf disbudding is a common management procedure conducted for the health and safety of both other animals and farm staff when handling cattle. In 2022 there were just over 1.4 million births to dairy dams, with a large proportion of these requiring disbudding. Therefore, any intervention, which improves the process of disbudding resulting in improved welfare, has the potential to impact a large number of animals. 

Disbudding is done under local anesthetic with systemic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and involves thermal cautery applied to destroy the epidermal and dermal layers containing the germinal cells around the horn bud using local anesthetic, typically at around 4-6 weeks of age. There are two main techniques used during the cautery procedure; one which simply causes third degree burns on the periphery of the horn bud, burning through the skin and down to the bone. The other physically removes the horn bud from its attachment to the skull using a scooping technique with the cautery iron. Typically, the technique employed is based upon operator preference, with little current literature comparing the efficacy and wound healing of these two techniques. 

This study aims to compare the two disbudding techniques to provide an evidence base for selection of the most appropriate technique. A further aim is to conduct a survey of vets and farmers to ask what techniques they use to disbud calves. It is hypothesized that the simpler cautery technique (without scooping) will result in a shorter time to complete the disbudding, with reducing signs of pain in the calves. It is also hypothesized that there will be faster wound healing with this technique by comparing wound healing in the months following disbudding.  


  1. Stafford, K.J.; Mellor, D.J. Dehorning and Disbudding Distress and Its Alleviation in Calves. Vet. J. 2005, 169, 337–349, doi:10.1016/J.TVJL.2004.02.005. 

  2. Adcock, S.J.J.; Tucker, C.B. The Effect of Disbudding Age on Healing and Pain Sensitivity in Dairy Calves. J. Dairy Sci. 2018, 101, 10361–10373, doi:10.3168/jds.2018-14987. 

  3. Hudson, C.; Reader, J. Recognising Pain and the Practical Use of Pain Relief in the Disbudding of Calves. Livestock 2014, 19, 102–106, doi:10.12968/LIVE.2014.19.2.102. 

  4. Sutherland, M.A.; Lowe, G.L.; Huddart, F.J.; Waas, J.R.; Stewart, M. Measurement of Dairy Calf Behavior Prior to Onset of Clinical Disease and in Response to Disbudding Using Automated Calf Feeders and Accelerometers. J. Dairy Sci. 2018, 101, 8208–8216. 




  • Experience working in a farm environment will be helpful, but not essential for this project. 

This can be taken full-time or part-time (12months FTE), project commencing in October 2024, based at Hawkshead campus and time spent at RVC's Regional Veterinary Centre - South of England. 

Please note, students will be required to have their own transport for the duration of the project. 


Self fundedThe MRes student will be expected to meet all of the project costs (£500-£800 maximum), course fees and their living expenses.

International applicants are welcome to apply but must be able to fund the difference between "Home" and "Overseas" tuition fees. Please note that EU/EEA and Swiss national students may no longer be eligible for the “Home” rate of tuition fees, dependent on personal circumstances (including immigration status and residence history in the UK) and UK government rules which are currently being developed. For up-to-date information on fees for EU/EEA and Swiss national students following Brexit please see our fees and funding page. 

How to Apply

For more information on the application process and English Language requirements see How to Apply.

Deadline: 1pm UK time, Friday 5th April

We welcome informal enquiries - these should be directed to Dr Nicola Blackie ( or Ms Sophie Mahendran (

Interview date and location: TBC

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