One of the greatest potential setbacks for a feedlot is to deal with belly nuts, which are the result of an inadequate castration using rubber rings at birth.
The number of supposed steers entering feedlots with this condition can be as high as 10 percent.
Solving this problem starts with the cow-calf producer.
Belly nuts cause many problems in the feedlot, both from an economic, labour and death standpoint and as an animal welfare issue.
These animals are essentially being castrated a second time, and it is a much more difficult procedure when one or both testicles were missed when the scrotum was removed using a band and the testicles are sitting up against the body.
There is also a higher risk of infection or death from blood loss, and these now large “staggy bulls” will need non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs because of their size and age.
A significant price reduction would most certainly be imposed on these animals if buyers could identify them.
Large feedlots in the United States won’t even deal with them. Instead, they return them to the auction barns, which is another significant cost to the industry.
There is no question that experienced people who castrate with a knife or scalpel during branding will make sure both testicles are re-moved. Calves that show up with a retained testicle shouldn’t be castrated. Instead, mark it to potentially do later when the other testicle may have descended.
Most castrations during branding are done with what veterinarians call a closed technique. They heal well and I can pretty much assume that both testicles are completely re-moved.
Producers who implant those calves can be assured of growth that is almost the equivalent to leaving them intact. As a result, it makes sense to castrate at a young age and then implant.
The problems occur when cow-calf producers band their calves at birth. It is the only way testicles can get pushed up to the belly.
Producers who use this method should become familiar with the various ringing pliers and make sure two testicles are down in the scrotum. I know they can be difficult to pull down at times, and if that is commonly the case, producers may need to do it when the calves are a bit older or get a good knife castrator to do the job at spring processing.
It is vital that producers make sure two testicles are contained within the castration ring before it is released.
Producers who use the rings should double check themselves until they get good at it and cut the ring off and repeat the process if they miss.
A producer I know has developed a small instrument that is essentially a circle with a slit cut out of a thick piece of plastic. He drops the scrotum through the circle and slides the slit onto the neck of the scrotum to keep everything down. He can then easily band the calf, knowing that the testicles are contained below the device, which is then removed.
Producers who castrate this way should separate the calf from the cow so that they have enough time to do it right.
Problems with applying the rings may be caused by how the calf is being held or the size of the scrotum in some breeds. It may also be the result of weather conditions because unless calves are just born, colder temperatures will pull up their scrotum and testicles.
We often see cases where both testicles are retained, which either means someone is extremely careless or doing it on purpose. I hope the latter is not the case, but if it is, then presort sales, astute buyers, tags and brands may eventually identify those farms as the problem.
Palpating each steer between the legs at the feedlot is the only way to catch these belly nuts. This takes time, labour and a slow down every time one is found.
Markets also have the option of running guaranteed testicle free calves by palpating for them when they do the pre-sort sales. My guess is the true steers would garnish a high premium and these belly nuts would be heavily discounted.