Have Castration Recommendations Changed?
Livestock Update, June 1997
Dee Whittier, DVM, MS, Production Management Medicine,
Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences,
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech
Newer technologies are now available for performing castrations on larger calves. These methods include the EZE Castration technique and the Kalicrate castrator. These techniques involve the application of large diameter elastic bands to the scrotum resulting in death of the testicular tissue. While these techniques offer an approach to castration that is more humane and perhaps less likely to result in complications, many of the time honored recommendations that have been in place for many years still stand. The recommendations are these:
Castrate bull calves as early in life as possible, as early as the day of birth.
Early castration is the most cost beneficial for the cow/calf producer assuring the avoidance of being docked in price for selling bulls or staggy steers.
Kansas State University research has studied the characteristics of bulls arriving at Kansas feedlots. Most of these bulls originate from small farms, commingle with other cattle at sale barns or at order buyer stations, and then get transported a long distance to the feedyard. As a result, these bulls are highly stressed when they arrive at the feedyard. Their research has demonstrated that growth performance is poorer in cattle purchased as bulls and castrated on arrival at the feedyard compared to cattle purchased as steers.
Recent research published by Kansas State University underlines the strength of the above recommendations. In the first study one hundred six bull calves (548 lbs) were purchased in south central Missouri, transported to Garden City, Kansas and randomly allotted to eight pens (13 or 14 hd /pen). All cattle were processed on arrival; those in four pens were castrated on arrival, and those in the other four pens were castrated 3 weeks later. Timing of castration had little effect (Table 1) on feed intake, daily gain, or feed efficiency but cattle health was affected. Cattle castrated off the truck had more sickness (88% vs. 75%), more death (11.4,vs 3.6%), and more chronic illness (5.4 vs. 3.8%). Delayed castration improved profitability by $40/hd.
Table 1. Effect of early vs. late castration on growth performance and health of stressed bull calves.
|Time of castration|
|Arrival||21 days later|
|# of pens||4||4|
|# of cattle||54||52|
|Initial weight, lb.||550||546||.69|
|Final weight, lb.||626||624||.89|
|Daily gain, lb.||1.46||1.50||.86|
|Feed intake, lb.||13.06||12.92||.87|
|% chronically ill||5.4||3.8||.78|
In the second report, 96 beef breed bull calves were used in a 50-day experiment that began at least six weeks after purchase and shipping. Experimental treatments were castration by banding or surgery. Banding was performed by using a mechanical device that stretched latex tubing (3/8 inch outside diameter) around the scrotum and just above the testicles. A small metal clamp was crimped- to ensure that the tubing remained stretched around the scrotum. Surgical castration was performed using a surgical blade and an emasculator. All cattle were given a tetanus shot at the time of castration.
Cattle were allotted randomly to each treatment and then within treatment to six pens with eight head each. Cattle were placed in open lot pens with concrete flooring. Cattle had 70 sq. ft. of pen space and 27 inches of linear bunk. Pens were cleaned weekly.
During the experiment, cattle were fed a diet composed of 82% corn silage, 16% sunflower meal, and 2% mineral premix (DM basis). Cattle were fed ad lib, once daily in the morning. Initial and final weights were based on two consecutive daily weights.
Initial and final weights were about 10 lbs heavier for surgically castrated cattle than banded cattle. (See Table 2) Cattle surgically castrated consumed more feed than cattle castrated by banding (P = .04), but no differences occurred in daily gain or feed efficiency. These cattle had no health problems. This was expected, because they had arrived 6 or 7 weeks before the experiment began and had been vaccinated for tetanus. In the banded group, with the exception of two bulls, all of the scrotal sacs containing testicles had atrophied and/or fallen off between 14 and 28 days after banding. On day 30, two cattle were put through the squeeze chute for visual examination, because the scrotal sac plus testicles had enlarged to about twice the original size. The enlarged scrotal sac was removed just below the latex band, with a surgical blade. Bleeding was minimal, and cattle were put back in their pen with no apparent problems.
Based on these data, it was conclude that during winter months, castration method has no effects on nonstressed stockers. Therefore, the method used should depend on personal preference.
Table 2 . Effect of banding vs. castration on growth performance of non-stressed stockers fed a silage based diet.
|# of pens||6||6|
|# of cattle||48||48|
|Starting weight, lb||681||690|
|Final weight, lb||764||778|
|Feed intake, lb||17.59||18.29||.04|
|Daily gain, lb||1.71||1.76||.70|
|*Probability that treatment effects are similar.|
Castration of young calves will improve their profitability. Steers that are implanted will have gains similar to intact bulls. If weaned bulls are purchased they should be allowed time to get over the stresses of weaning and marketing before being castrated. Several methods of castration may be successfully used on older calves.