Producers can surgically castrate or band bull calves
Castrating bulls is a chore on the farm most producers are familiar with.
It is not the most pleasant task for any of the involved parties, but it must be done. With a little planning and forethought, castration can be a fairly smooth process.
Ideally, castration will happen at a young age.
“The Beef Quality Assurance Manual states when practical, cattle should be castrated before the age of 3 months (90 days) or at the first available handling opportunity beyond this age.” Andy McCorkill, University of Missouri Extension field specialist in livestock, said. “As a general rule, the younger the better. If it’s done in the first few days of life, along with tagging and the like, they barely know what’s been done. As they get older, the stress of castration gets greater. For seedstock producers, it isn’t always a cut and dry decision that early and it may need to be delayed until a point when it’s more apparent whether the individual will make a breeding bull or not.”
There are two methods for castration – surgical or banding. There is more certainty that both testicles have been removed with surgical or knife method of castration, but with banding, there can potentially be issues with a retained a testicle.
“If you band, it’s important to administer a tetanus vaccine along with it and make certain that both testicles are under the band,” McCorkill advised.
While the services of a veterinarian can be employed, surgical castration is a task that producers can learn if they are comfortable doing so.
“It is not a difficult procedure to learn or perform, especially in young calves,” Dr. Craig Payne, University of Missouri Extension veterinarian, said.
“It is a matter of confidence and knowledge. Starting out, one may not have the know-how to do it on their own and may rely on a vet or someone with more confidence. Sometimes, it may be a matter of whether or not the farm is equipped with the necessary facilities, such as a squeeze chute and working pens. The bottom line is that for some it may be the better alternative to have the vet or a trusted advisor do it, but almost anyone is capable of learning how to do it on their own,” McCorkill said.
There is some discussion in the cattle world about the weight gains of castrated calves, and whether there is a benefit to delayed castration.
Payne explained that “the reason often given for delaying castration until weaning or later is that intact males will gain more weight than castrated cohorts, which is true. However, when those calves are castrated later in life, there is information to suggest that any weight advantage they had over their early castrated counterparts is lost due to the stress of the procedure. A strategy often used to compensate for the loss of gain from early castration is using a calf implant at time of castration. This way calves achieve weight gains similar to those of intact males but don’t experience the stress associated with later castration.”