Castration: Not Cutting Will Cut Profits

Matt Claeys

Castration is an essential procedure in a competitive commercial cow-calf operation. When done properly, castration of the bull calves will increase the return to the operation. In a recent study, conducted by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, a number of factors were analyzed for their effect on the price of feeder cattle. Specifically focusing on castration, thirty-nine percent of the male feeder cattle marketed were marketed as bulls from April 1992 through March 1993. The bull calves were discounted an average of $2.09 per hundred weight when compared to the steers.

The major concern of feeding bulls is the marketing system. The beef marketing system favors steer carcasses. The steer carcasses can be marketed through a greater number of channels than bull carcasses. Feedlot managers prefer steers to bulls for a number of reasons. Generally, steers are easier to handle and more docile than bulls. Steers are also not as rough on equipment and are easier to manage as new individuals added to feedlots.

Castration should occur when the calf is rather young. Many producers will castrate their calves when they are two or three days old. Older calves tend to suffer a greater set back from the castration (which cost the producer money) and are more difficult to handle and restrain for the procedure. The latest castration should be done is one month prior to weaning to avoid any extra stress from the weaning process. Bull calves castrated at or following weaning can still retain a staggy appearance and attitude that the feedlot operator discounts. Purebred operators can still castrate bull calves that are culls and still realize some profit. Particularly when one considers the cost of reputation from selling cull bulls as breeding stock. Most often purebred yearling bulls that result in culls should be taken to slaughter as bulls and not castrated and marketed as stags.

The choice of castration method will be determined by the preference of the operator, age and weight of the calf, and the time of year the procedure is being performed. In all techniques the hands and castration instruments should be sanitized between each calf to prevent the spread and/or introduction of infection.

Three methods of castration will be discussed. The methods will range from bloodless to surgical removal of the testicles. In each case the advantages and disadvantages will be mentioned for the various procedures.

Emasculatome (Burdizzo). The burdizzo can be utilized as a bloodless method of castration. This method shuts off the blood supply to the testicle and causes the testicle to be reabsorbed if properly done. The clamping procedure is completed the best when the bull calf is standing and restrained with a tail hold. Prior to starting, make sure the burdizzo closes or clamps down properly. Then use the instrument to crush each cord individually. As the calf is restrained place a cord to the outside of the scrotum wall and clamp about midway between the testicle and the scrotum- belly wall junction. Hold the burdizzo with one hand on the far handle and the other handle against ones knee. With the free hand check to see that the cord has not slipped out and be sure not clamp part of the inner quarter of the calf or the tail. Close the burdizzo and hold for a few seconds. Then clamp the other cord using a gap of uncrushed scrotum and prevent it from falling off. DISADVANTAGES of this method is that the result can easily be clamped bulls that are stags. This can be due to improper technique or equipment (a sprung burdizzo).

Elastrator. The elastrators can also be used as a bloodless method of castration for many producers that castrate at an early age. This method also shuts off the blood supply to the testicle and causes the scrotum to fall off (10 to 14 days) or is required to be cut off after several days. To use the elastrators, restrain the calf, expand or stretch the elastrator band and place both testicles through the band. Then release the band from the elastrator and around the scrotum. DISADVANTAGES of this method is the danger of clostridial infections and tetanus. This elastrator bands can break and castration may not occur. Lastly, sometimes a testicle can be missed and be retained in the belly cavity, resulting in a stag.

Surgical Removal. The technique of choice. This technique does involve a knife, or scalpel and is NOT bloodless. On one or two day-old calves, one person can restrain the calf and perform the procedure. Tie both rear legs and at least one of the front legs securely. With the knife or scalpel remove the bottom third of the scrotum. This will allow proper drainage. With ones fingers press the testicles through the removed/opened portion of the scrotum one at a time. Do not use a finger to dig for the testicle until the muscle separates. Then cut the spermatic cord with a knife or scalpel as high up the cord as possible. After testicles are removed, apply an antiseptic that is effective, yet, not irritating. Try to perform the procedure outside the fly season. If done during the fly season, use some type of repellant to keep insects away from the opened tissue. This technique can also be performed using an emasculator. This will help to minimize the amount of bleeding by crushing the cord prior to it being severed.

On larger calves at least a month prior to weaning, castrate the calf in the standing position. An assistant will be needed to perform a tail hold on the calf as part of the restraint and to help assure that the calf does not kick during the procedure. The tail holder should stand against the calf with one knee in the calf's flank while holding the tail in an upward position and towards the calf's head. Use caution and common sense to avoid possibly breaking the calf's tail. Then proceed as described above. Be sure to sever the spermatic cord high and avoid leaving tissue that could produce testosterone and result in a stag. DISADVANTAGES for this procedure is that there is some blood. Try to avoid the vertical incisions as drainage from the lower scrotum can be hindered and cause infections. If possible, avoid surgical castration at the height of fly and insect season.

Castration is a very important economic manage technique that needs to be performed for increased returns to the beef operation. The technique used will vary from operator to operator. The important factor to remember in each technique is that the job should be done as early as possible to minimize stress and it must be done correctly. Sloppy castration means lower profits.

Animal Husbandry Newsletter January/February 1996
Published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.
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