Dehorning a Cow

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, March 8, 1912:  I think I came out fairly in General History today. I remembered all of my speech, but as my custom is I never get enough pauses and proper way of speaking in the thing. This time it was too fast. Are going to have them again next Friday. They ought to be pretty well digested by that time.

Mollie was shorn of her horns today. Poor thing, I hope she won’t kick the bucket. But I don’t think she will.

Photo source: The Farm Dairy (1908) by H. B. Gurler

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Mollie was Grandma’s cow. Based on previous diary entries it seems as if each of the Muffly girls owned one the family’s cows.

Mollie had her first calf the previous August, so probably was about 2 1/2 years old when this diary entry was written.

I’m surprised that Mollie’s horns were removed when she was so old. I think that typically horns would either be removed when the cow was younger than this—or the cow would never be dehorned. My gut feeling is that Mollie was acting aggressively toward other cows with her horns—and that as a result ended up being dehorned.

The horns would have been cut off with a tool designed for that purpose. Mollie probably bled quite a bit afterwards—and there would have been the risk of infection.

Dehorning would have been very painful for a few days—though I doubt that there was much chance that the dehorning might actually cause a cow to die (kick the bucket).

The Tennessee Extension Service has a publication that explains how cattle are dehorned. See page 6 for a description of how older cattle are de-horned. I don’t think that the process has changed much in the last hundred years.

7 Responses

  1. We had a goat once with horns. She was pretty old but she did like to attack the other goats so the ends of her horns were sawed off but not the whole thing.

  2. It would have been quite a job to dehorn a cow that old! It is never pleasant work to begin with.

    • It seems like the cow must have been causing some major problems with her horns–otherwise, as you suggested, I don’t think they would gone to all of the effort.

  3. As always, I love Helena’s personality, and I love your interpretive comments. What a great combination! This could evolve into a history-picture book type of thing, with all the research you’ve done. Have you kept notes?

    • Thanks for the nice note! I guess that the posts themselves are basically my notes. Someday, if I have the energy, I might try to reorganize some of the information in the posts into some sort of book.

  4. I loved the off hand bit, “hope she won’t kick the bucket.”

    • I know that my parents used the term “kick the bucket” when I was a child. I’ve been trying to remember if I’ve heard anyone say it recently–or it it’s becoming an archaic slang term.

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