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Castration considerations, thoughts and methods

sursad-iStock-Thinkstock calf on a tilt table
If you castrate when calves are very young, you can compensate the lower rates of gain with the right implant while that calf has the extra energy from nursing.
So many things should affect your methods: Age, size, stress, diet and moon phase.

Removal of the male testicles of both animal and human has been practiced for at least several thousand years. Both man and beast are more predictable creatures when the testosterone has been removed.

In fact, it has been said that the most fruitful brain surgery takes place between the hind legs. Truth is that many of the most long term successful men in the Bible were eunuchs, the definition of which is to have been neutered before early adulthood.

Several advantages have been noted historically pertaining to castrated animals (like steers):

  • More docility.
  • Less activity.
  • Lower physical maintenance cost (fencing for example).
  • More intramuscular fat deposition (marbling).
  • Higher selling price per pound.

Possible disadvantages of castration may include:

  • Slower maturity.
  • Slower average daily gains.
  • Sickness and death loss following castration.

It is not a matter of whether the vast majority of bull calves will be castrated. The question is when will we castrate? Timing is almost everything and the longer the animal remains a bull the more equipment and expertise and skill are required. Remember that all the testicular tissue must be removed to result in a true steer. A portion of testicle the size of your little finger will result in bull behavior and characteristics, including carcass changes.

Here’s how I classify bulls

My goal is to think of calves and castration according to ranch management and marketing options. I classify cattle this way.

  • Babies
  • 200 to 350 pounds
  • 400 to 600 pounds
  • 650 pounds and up

The simplest and likely the easiest time and way to steer a bull calf is shortly after he is born, claimed and cleaned by mama, and has nursed and is exhibiting bounce. Problems at this time are mostly with the cow and the safety of the operator. There are cows out there that will get in the truck with you to protect their calves. Two weeks post-calving, attitudes have changed, but the first few days can get you banged up or dead.

Remember that bull calves have two testicles and both must be removed or he is still a bull. Identify both testicles before you start. I hate elastrator bands for baby calves but there are still bunches of folks in some locations using them. Don’t forget these two imperatives concerning bands:

  1. Both testicles below the band
  2. Tetanus toxoid and antitoxin to the calf subcutaneously

I’ve seen several cattle die with tetanus in 40 years. Every one was banded. None were cut with a knife.

Calves that are steered prior to sexual maturity are going to have slower rates of gain when compared to intact bull calves. Much of this weight can be regained with the use of the proper implant while the calf is nursing and there is positive nutrient energy (milk) readily available.

A bunch of my Oklahoma ranchers do not castrate 400- to 500-pound cutting bulls for 60 to 90 days after fall purchase. This is not my recommendation but I do agree that if you don’t castrate at delivery you are better off to wait 60 days or more.

Some warnings

We have seen wrecks when we cut at 14 to 28 days. Don’t castrate high-stress calves or yearlings.

I do not like cutting fat calves that have been running on lots of clover and legumes. Some of the few problems we have had fit this scenario. Vitamin K injection a few days before might have helped.

There are lots of ways to castrate a calf but many are not acceptable. I highly recommend a few lessons with an experienced working veterinarian. The older the calves or yearlings the more this is important.

The Henderson tool technique uses a variable-speed drill to twist the vessels, cord and muscle together up to the kidney area. Properly applied, this technique has been highly effective.

I love a Newberry knife. Properly used, it opens the entire scrotum halfway or more down from its descending skin from the abdomen. The testicles are pretty much left dangling and enclosed in the tunics, which are the fibrous covering that surrounds the spermatic cord, cremaster muscle, and testicle.

We take a left hand (working off the left side of the animal) and push up while pulling with the right hand to break the muscles of the cremaster. The vessels are broken somewhere in the vicinity of the kidneys and the cord is excised 8 to 12 inches above the testicle. A popular alternative is to emasculate the entire tunic, muscle, cords, and blood vessels six to eight inches above the testicle individually with a heavy emasculator. A dose of furosemide will reduce bleeding and swelling and is certainly cost effective for large-nutted calves and yearlings.

Castration by the moon

Honestly, these days we are checking the signs of the zodiac on the Farmer’s Almanac calendar.

When they are below the secrets (Scorpio) and headed down is when we cut. According to the zodiac signs, the best time to castrate is when signs are under Sagittarius (thighs), Capricorn (knees), Aquarius (legs), and Pisces (feet). If we castrate when the signs are in the knees (Capricorn) and the following day they are in the feet (Pisces) that is considered optimal.

I do not claim to understand but I no longer argue.

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