Evaluation of the Thermal Response of the Horns in Dairy Cattle

Marijke Algra, Lara de Keijzer, Saskia Arndt, Frank van Eerdenburg, Vivian Goerlich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Dairy cattle are typically disbudded or dehorned. Little is known, however, about the biological function and role of horns during thermoregulatory processes in cattle, and thus about the potential physiological consequences of horn removal. Anecdotal evidence suggests that dairy cow horns increase in temperature during rumination, and few studies on other bovid species indicate that horns aid thermoregulation. The objective of this study was, therefore, to elucidate a possible thermoregulatory function of the horns in dairy cattle. Using non-invasive infrared thermography, we measured the superficial temperature of the horns, eyes, and ears of 18 focal cows on three different farms in a temperate climate zone under various environmental circumstances. Observations of social and non-social behaviours were conducted as well. Based on environmental temperature, humidity, and wind speed, the heat load index (HLI) was calculated as a measure of the heat load experienced by a cow. The temperature of the horns increased by 0.18 °C per unit HLI, indicating that horns serve the dissipation of heat. Dehorned cows had higher eye temperatures than horned cows, though this result should be interpreted with caution as the low sample size and experimental setup prevent casual conclusions. We did not, however, find changes in horn temperature during rumination, nor with any other behaviours. Our study thus supports a role of horns in thermoregulation, but not related to rumination. These results should be considered when assessing the potential consequences of horn removal, a painful procedure.
Original languageEnglish
Article number500
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023


  • adaptation
  • bovine
  • farm animal management
  • infrared thermography
  • mutilation
  • thermal window
  • welfare


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