We now have many tools at our disposal when it comes to castrating calves.
The skillful use of newer techniques and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID) address welfare issues.
Much has changed in the feedlot industry.
For starters, feedlots no longer dehorn cattle. A few may be tipped and the polled bulls look after the rest. As well, cattle are not branded unless finance companies, border crossings or community pastures insist.
And finally, feedlots really don’t want to castrate. Quite frankly, it is not the place to get that done.
Most cattle entering the large feedlots are bigger. These bigger older bulls usually have bigger testicles, so right away we have compounding problems. The bigger the calf, the more stressful castration is for the animal.
For the good of the cattle industry and the entire value chain, producers must get much better at castrating on the farm.
The smaller and younger the calf, the better, especially when it is still nursing.
Rings are the easiest to do, especially when the calf is a day old. They cause the least amount of stress and producers are often tagging and vaccinating the calves anyway, so it saves a procedure.
Growth in an implanted calf will be about as good as in an intact bull, and producers don’t have to worry about castrating them when older.
Too many “belly nuts” are showing up in Canadian feedlots. We must examine how these misses happen and what can be done to prevent them.
Many producers may not even realize they are shipping steer calves with a retained testicle.
Reviewing our castration procedures may help us discover where the errors are happening.
When using bands at birth, a calf should be left, marked and re-checked later if a testicle has not descended. It’s important to re-check once the band is released to make sure both testicles are still contained in the scrotum.
It is a good idea to ensure that the people handling the calves can do so without an over-aggressive mother cow in close proximity. We do more things now to newborns, including vaccinations, so we must take our time and do it right, including castration.
Older calves can be castrated with a knife at a few months of age during the traditional “branding time” before turnout to pasture.
Make sure that the most skilled individual is performing the castration because the quicker the procedure with a sharp scalpel or knife, the less the chance of infection, excessive bleeding and inflammation.
Giving an NSAID such as ban-amine is becoming common and is money well spent, considering the other stressors on the calf. The anti-inflammatories have come down in price and provide up to two days benefit. As well, younger calves require less product because they still don’t weigh as much.
Implanting will also provide better growth and should definitely be considered.
Callicrate has developed a bander for three- to five-month-old calves that aren’t castrated with a knife. The middle-sized band is put on the same way as bands at birth.
The technique is easy to use but it is important that calves have a tetanus vaccine. Tetanus is found in some of the 8-way and 9-way clostridial (blackleg) vaccines. I am most familiar with covexin plus and Tasvax 8. The vaccines should say tetanus on the label.
All of this is important to do on the farm because it is a problem for feedlots to buy steers and then find out they are partially intact, usually with one testicle.
They pose a significant risk to the feedlot because they are more difficult to cut and are big and staggy looking. Quite frankly, the feedlots really don’t want them.
I found out most recently that a large feedlot in the United States will turn back intact or partially intact bulls if they are discovered at processing.
Producers must work with their veterinarian to find the most appropriate method of castration for their farm based on age of calf, time of year and resources at their disposal.
We need to aim for as close to 100 percent success as possible and use painkillers when advised. This will save needless problems down the line.
Roy Lewis works as a technical services veterinarian part time with Merck Animal Health in Alberta.