Castrating Bull Calves: Same Song, 47th Verse

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Most of the cattle in this area are fall calved. That means that the bull calves will be castrated soon if they haven’t been already. I thought I would beat this dead horse for my article this time. N.C. Cooperative Extension has been recommending castration for as long as I have been here and probably for years before. In a discussion with a producer the other day he asked why more people weren’t adopting some management practices, I don’t remember what now, and I told him, “I don’t know. We’ve been preaching castration for 50 years and a lot of people still don’t do it”.

Castration of bull calves is a common practice in agriculture, primarily aimed at managing animal behavior, improving meat quality, and facilitating better herd management. This process involves the removal of the testicles in young male cattle, typically before they reach sexual maturity. General recommendation is as early as possible, it can be done at birth, but no later than 90 days of age. This can be done with a blade or with a band. Both have their pros and cons–the choice is typically what the producer would prefer. I’m going to add here if you decide to go with a band, please, please, please, get both under the band! And while the topic may raise ethical considerations, there are several notable benefits associated with  castrating bull calves.

One of the primary reasons for castrating bull calves is to manage their behavior. Intact bulls can exhibit aggressive and unpredictable behavior due to increased levels of testosterone. This aggressiveness can pose a safety risk to both handlers and other animals within the herd and in feed yards. Castration significantly reduces testosterone levels, leading to a calmer temperament, making the animals easier to handle and reducing the risk of injury to both humans and other cattle.

Castration can positively impact the quality of meat produced by cattle. Bulls that are not castrated tend to develop tougher and less flavorful meat, often with undesirable characteristics such as a stronger taste and a coarser texture. This is due to the presence of testosterone, which affects the composition and quality of muscle fibers. Castrated animals, commonly referred to as steers, produce meat that is more tender, with better marbling and overall quality, making it more appealing to consumers.

Castration plays a crucial role in effective herd management. By preventing unwanted mating and unplanned pregnancies (heifer calves that exhibit early puberty), it allows for better control of breeding programs. Controlled breeding helps farmers select superior genetics, ensuring the production of high-quality offspring with desirable traits. It also prevents inbreeding and allows for more efficient use of resources, as farmers can focus on raising animals specifically for intended purposes, such as meat production or breeding.

From an economic perspective, castration can yield several advantages for farmers. Steer calves typically sell for more that bull calves of the same weight. For example, the last sale report (January 11, 2024) from East Carolina Stockyard has 475-pound blk/bwf steers at $283 per hundred pounds. Blk/bwf bulls weighing 473 pounds were $235 per hundred pounds. That is a difference of $232.70 more per head just for taking the testicles out. It wouldn’t take many to cover the cost of paying someone to help work the herd to castrate the bulls and still have more money in your pocket. Additionally, the reduced risk of injury or aggression from castrated bulls can lower veterinary costs and decrease potential losses associated with damaged equipment or injured animals.

While the practice of castrating bull calves is widespread, ethical concerns regarding animal welfare exist. It’s important to consider the appropriate methods of castration, ensuring it is performed with minimal pain and stress to the animals. Using anesthesia or pain relief during the procedure and adhering to proper veterinary guidelines can significantly mitigate the discomfort experienced by the calves. This may become more of a necessity in the future with the scrutiny that some consumers are placing on animal production. Additionally, there are now bands on the market that are imbedded with pain reliever that lasts until the animal’s scrotum and testicles become numb due to lack of blood flow. Again, the earlier the better. While there will still be some stress and discomfort, momma makes everything better!

If you are unsure of how to castrate or nervous about trying, I am volunteering your County Extension livestock agent to go and show you how to use the method of your choice. It isn’t hard to learn and most agents will have plenty of experience with both methods. Just call your local office to schedule a time. If they won’t help or you don’t have an agent, call me. Also, if you are in Bladen, Cumberland, Hoke, or Sampson Counties, we have both a portable squeeze chute with head gate and a trailer with panels that can be rented. So, if you have the desire but not the equipment or facilities to castrate, we can be of help there too. As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to call the office, 910-592-7161.

band castration