Castration strategies: Castration affects the bottom line
“The timing and method in which a rancher chooses to castrate their bull calves can make a difference in terms of safety and growth of bull calves,” says Wheatland area Veterinarian Steve Lucas.
Lucas explains there are pros and cons to different methods of castration, including open castrations, banding and delayed castration.
“There isn’t a single definitive time every rancher should castrate,” says Lucas. “There are some factors to keep in mind, especially in consideration of utilizing the natural growth stimulation associated with testosterone or using an implant.”
“I’ve found the most common timing is around two months of age during branding time,” Lucas notes. “Most people will use an open castration method at this time.”
Lucas explains the high level of safety associated with an open castration, especially at a young age, makes it very popular among ranchers.
“At this point in a calf’s life, the testicles are still relatively small,” Lucas says. “They don’t bleed very much, and the calves are easier to handle.”
He says the procedure is fairly simple and involves making an incision into the scrotum followed by the physical extraction of both testes.
“This method has very high efficacy,” says Lucas. “This is another reason it is so popular.”
Lucas explains the downside to this method is losing the natural growth stimulation associated with testosterone production.
“I recommend producers use an implant to compensate for growth loss associated with removing the source of testosterone in bull calves,” Lucas says.
“If we can catch them young, banding can be another effective method of castrating calves,” says Lucas.
He explains if the calves are too big, common bands may be too small. Therefore, it is best to band as close to birth as possible.
“This method is extremely safe for calves, but producers need to pay attention when banding calves to avoid issues,” says Lucas.
He notes it is very important for producers to pay attention when banding calves because missing a testicle or banding below the testicle can create issues down the road.
“The size of the band matters,” says Lucas. “For calves between 250 and 400 pounds, use the small bands. They are typically green.”
“For larger calves, between 900 and 1,000 pounds, be sure to use a larger band,” Lucas notes.
Delayed or no castration
Lucas explained delayed castration could decrease the safety of popular methods such as banding and open castrations, as well as open up the possibility of accidental breedings.
“The increased size and blood flow can complicate an open castration,” says Lucas. “When calves start to get bigger, we have to use a larger band that is less common.”
“I am really not a fan of leaving testicles intact unless producers have the management capabilities to separate bull calves from the rest of the herd,” says Lucas.
He explains if ranchers are unable to separate bull calves from the rest of the herd, ranchers may have to deal with accidental breedings as the bulls approach puberty.
“The major reason people choose to leave calves intact longer is the growth associated with testosterone,” says Lucas. “If this is the rancher’s preference that is fine, but growth associated with testosterone can be mimicked through implants.”
Not castrating prior to taking calves to the sale barn can also result in discounts, which impact the bottom line, adds Lucas.
He also pointed out cattle left intact are discounted because the carcass of bulls will often grade lower due to increased occurrences of dark meats.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) reported consistently lower sale prices between 2010 and 2017 between medium to large framed steers in comparison to bulls.
In case studies conducted at Kansas State University, it has been proven that bulls consistently fetch discounts at the sale due to the lower quality associated with meat from a bull as opposed to a steer.
He recommends castrating cattle to avoid discounts at the sale barn and recommends the use of implants to encourage growth.
According to studies conducted at the New Mexico State University (NMSU), implanting suckling calves with growth-promoting implants almost always makes economic sense as long as the products are used according to their labels.
The standard assumption is implants cost one dollar per head, and the increased labor is minimal. NMSU studies have shown steer calves implanted at branding gained an average of 15 pounds more at weaning than non-implanted calves.
The studies point out factors such as environmental conditions and the potential growth rate have a great effect on the magnitude of response to growth-promoting implants.
“As compared with non-implanted calves in the same environment, a group of higher-performing calves in a good environment for growth generally will show a greater performance improvement in response to growth promotants than will lower-performing calves in a poor environment for growth,” according to NMSU.
Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.