The timing and economic impact of castration
When and how each livestock operation manages the castration of its bull calves varies from farm to farm. However, experts recommend producers follow a few simple guidelines to optimize animal health and financial gains.
The consensus when it comes to the ideal or right time to castrate bull calves is to band or cut them as early as possible. “If you look at the stress on a calf it is usually better when they are younger,” Elizabeth MacConnell Picking, University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist, said.
Some producers castrate at birth, others wait until two months of age and some castrate at weaning. Overall, experts recommend castrating calves prior to weaning.
“Our goal as producers should be to try and limit stress on our animals, and castrating a calf while he can still be comforted by momma is a good thing,” Earl Ward, NE Area Livestock Specialist with Oklahoma State University Extension, stated.
If producers choose to band, especially at birth, there is a slight chance of future complications. Ward recommends producers wait until “branding time” which is typically when the bull is about 2 months old.
“The reason for that is at least if I cut them, I know I get two testicles out, versus if I am banding, especially at birth, if you band them and they still have one up in them – that is not good for anybody,” Ward said.
If producers wait until weaning to castrate, they are adding additional stress to the bull calf during an already taxing time. Castrating prior to weaning helps reduce some of the strain at weaning. “Normally what we do at weaning is we get them up, we pull them off mom, we castrate them, we give them shots – all this at one time,” Ward said. “That is a bunch of stress. We could mitigate some of it by spreading that stress out over time.”
Livestock specialists state research shows no difference in the stress of an animal on whether he was banded or cut with a knife. “Banding is a prolonged low stress, whereas cutting is a short-lived high stress on the animals,” Ward explained. “So, pick which ever practice works for you and remove those testicles.”
Though some producers leave the animal’s testicles in longer to try to increase the animal’s growth, in the long run a castrated calf should bring more money. “Very consistently you will see, if you were to take a bull calf to town versus a steer calf, your bull calves will bring less,” Ward stated.
One reason for the difference in price is stress management. When producers take the risk and do the work of castration at their farm, that translates to more money in their pockets.
“Anytime we add some form of management to our calves we are also adding value,” Ward said. “If a bull calf is castrated and completely healed you potentially increased his sale price by roughly $0.30/cwt.”
Additionally, animals that are castrated after weaning are more likely to have reduced performance and health issues as they heal from castration. Livestock specialists state research indicates bull calves that are castrated early perform similar to bulls left intact until they are weaned.
Each livestock operation comes with its own requirements and challenges. Experts suggest producers talk with their herd veterinarian to determine exactly when to castrate calves and what method to use that will work best for their operation.