Castration of Calves
Table of Contents
- Castration Defined
- Reasons for Castration
- Managing Male Calves
- Beef From Intact Bulls
- Immunization as an Alternative to Castration
- Castration Age
- Testosterone Effect
- Liveweight Gains
- Choice of Castration Methods
- Welfare Significance
- Anaesthesia and Pain Relief
- Acknowledgement and References
Castration of a bull (male) calf is the process of removal or destruction
of the testicles. A steer is a castrated male calf raised for beef.
Reasons for Castration
Reasons given for castrating beef calves include to:
- stop the production of male hormones and semen
- historically, tame oxen for draught purposes
- prevent mating and reproduction after the age of puberty
- produce docile cattle that are easier to handle compared to
- decrease aggressiveness, mounting activity, injuries, frequency
of dark-cutting carcasses
- enhance on-farm safety for animals, producers and employees
- decrease costs associated with fencing and handling facilities
compared to bulls
- avoid discounted price that packers pay for bull carcasses
- provide meat products of the quality consumers demand
Managing Male Calves
Owners may choose to manage male calves as intact bulls, castrate
early, castrate late, or castrate plus implant with a growth stimulant
implant. Which is selected will depend on the available handling
facilities, the producer's ability, the awareness of castration
effects and the market available for the calves. Owners with guaranteed
buyers willing to purchase green calves (horns and testicles in
place), at the same price as processed calves (castrated and dehorned),
might be advised to avoid these procedures. However, this buyer
is very rare. Most purchasers of green calves are well aware of
the risks associated with processing older calves and routinely
bid less at auction. Recently, preconditioned (castrated, dehorned,
vaccinated, bunk-adjusted) calves have brought a premium price at
Beef From Intact Bulls
There is a niche market for meat from young, intact bulls. The
meat appeals to consumers who oppose castration for welfare reasons,
desire meat produced without hormonal implants and prefer lean meat.
Intact animals could be marketed one to two months earlier than
castrates, which saves feed. Generally, consumers cannot detect
differences in taste or tenderness between meat from steers and
Immunization as an Alternative to Castration
Researchers have shown immunization/vaccination techniques will
suppress male hormone production, reduce testicular development
and result in steer-like carcasses. Growth and carcass characteristics
of the immunized animals are similar to steers. Researchers also
have found that castration by immunization reduces aggressive behavior
and is an effective alternative to surgical castration to manage
bulls. However, there is no commercial product available for use.
The need for repeated injections likely would discourage its adoption.
Castration at a young age minimizes hazards to the calf, the cow-calf
producer and the feedlot owner. Hazards for calves and owners include:
- sickness or death of calves following castration at an older
- decreased liveweight gains (productivity) in the weeks following
castration of older calves
Many producers choose to castrate new-born calves because:
- techniques are easier for the operator
- castration is less stressful on newborn calves
- concerns for animal welfare related to castrating older calves
Although there is no evidence that pain differs between young and
older calves, there is less risk with castration of young calves.
Some producers delay castration to take advantage of the growth
effects of the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone secretion
commences between 3.5 and 5.5 months. The differences in liveweight
gain of castrates and bulls are first apparent at four to five months.
Studies of the effects of castration on liveweight gains have been
reported from many countries. In general, there are no differences
in liveweight gains for bulls and steers in the 21 days following
castration at one month of age. However, there are significant differences
with castration at older ages. During the 1980s and early 1990s,
research focused on methods to recover weight lost by use of hormonal
implants. In the past decade or so, research seems to focus on alleviation
of pain and animal welfare issues associated with castration.
Choice of Castration Methods
Castration may be accomplished by physical, chemical or hormonal
techniques. Physical methods are most common. Testicles may be removed
surgically or killed by obstructing the blood supply. Young calves
may be castrated with rubber rings, Burdizzo or by surgery. Surgical
castration may be more appropriate for calves that are not handled
Elastic Band Castration
Elastrator tool used to apply rubber rings.
Elastic band castration cuts off blood supply to the testicles.
A lack of blood supply kills the testicles. The equipment for banding
calves less than three weeks of age is called an elastrator. An
elastrator (Figure 1) is the tool used to apply an elastic band
to the neck of the scrotum. The elastic band obstructs blood flow
to the testicles and the scrotum. In time, the scrotum and testicles
fall from the body. The elastrator band is most reliable for calves
less than three weeks of age. EZE and Callicrate are tools used
to band older, larger calves with latex bands. Vaccination to protect
against tetanus and blackleg is recommended. These infections may
be more common when older calves are banded. Vaccines must be given
weeks in advance of banding. Researchers from Saskatchewan provide
strong evidence against using elastic band or surgical castration
of mature bulls based on pain response, time to heal and post-castration
weight loss. Researchers from Alberta found no advantage in average
daily gain with late castration with latex bands vs. surgical castration.
Faulty application of elastic bands results in retention of a testicle
and calves with a bull-like appearance (stags). To successfully
use elastic bands, the operator must understand the anatomy and
restrain the calf properly. Some European countries have banned
elastic band castration because officials consider it inhumane.
- Use the elastrator technique for calves from birth to three
weeks of age.
- Use elastic rings purchased within the last 12 months to avoid
breakage and assure a tight fit. The rings must be strong enough
to cut off blood flow in the arteries as well as the veins. If
not, the scrotum will swell.
- Pull both testicles into the scrotum. A muscle attached to each
testicle will be pulling against you.
- Place the rubber band on the elastrator. Hold the elastrator
with the prongs facing up. Close the handles to open the band.
- With the calf standing and both testicles in the scrotum, stretch
the ring open and slip the open band up over the scrotum. Release
the band just above the top of the testicles (~0.5 cm), not at
the base of the scrotum.
- Check to be sure both testicles are still in the tip of the
scrotum and that the ring is placed properly (Figure 2). If not,
cut the ring with scissors and start again.
- Remove the elastrator from under the band.
- EZE or Callicrate bands are applied in a similar location. See
the manufacturer's literature for detailed instructions.
Elastic band at top of testicles.
- local anaesthesia virtually eliminates the acute pain caused
by rubber-ring or latex-band castration
- acute pain caused by banding is greater than that caused by
- Burdizzo clamps
Advantages and Disadvantages:
- bloodless, easy to perform
- large lesions may form above the band site and persist for
long times, making latex bands inappropriate for yearling cattle
- wounds heal more slowly than those from surgical castration
- newest versions of banders for older calves adjust the latex
bands to correct tension
- potential for missed testicles
- band may break or band may not disrupt all circulation to the
- preferred for castrating at a wet, muddy feedlot
- infections, including tetanus and blackleg, may warrant vaccination
prior to banding
- public concern about pain and animal welfare associated with
banding older calves
- lower weight gains following latex-band castration compared
to surgical castration
- EZE and Callicrate methods without anaesthesia for older bulls
deemed inhumane and unethical
Burdizzo Clamps for Castration
The Burdizzo method crushes the blood vessels, interrupts the blood
supply to the testicle and thus kills the testicle. Good restraint
is essential because the Burdizzo must be in place about 10 seconds
to crush the artery.
The Burdizzo (Figure 3) must be in good condition. The jaws must
be parallel and close uniformly across their width so pressure will
be evenly distributed across their length. Leave the Burdizzo slightly
open when not in use.
- Use this technique when the spermatic cord can be palpated
- one month and older.
- Choose and use the proper sized forceps for the size of animal.
With undersized forceps, there will be too much tissue between
the jaws and there will not be enough force to properly crush
- Find the spermatic cord on one side of the scrotum. Reach between
the hind legs and grasp the scrotum above the testicles. The spermatic
cord runs from the testicle into the calf's body. It is about
the size of a pencil and moves easily from side to side in its
half of the scrotum. Pinch the cord to the outside edge of the
scrotum between your thumb and forefinger. If right handed, use
your left hand to hold the cord and your right to operate the
- Position the Burdizzo correctly for crushing. One jaw of the
Burdizzo has projections at each end to keep the spermatic cord
from slipping out of the Burdizzo. Place the jaw with the projections
on the front side of the scrotum. Point the projections toward
- Include only the part of the scrotum that contains the spermatic
cord between the jaws of the Burdizzo. Do not crush more of the
scrotum than necessary. The jaws should be placed just above (1-1.5
cm) the top of the testicle.
- Close the Burdizzo, count out 10 seconds and check to be sure
the spermatic cord has been held between the jaws of the Burdizzo.
You can also rock the spermatic cord back and forth in the jaws.
- Release the Burdizzo, move it to a new site 1 cm below your
first site, and repeat steps four and five. Choose a site below
the first crush to minimize acute pain from a second crush.
- Repeat the procedure on the opposite side. Stagger the pinched
areas on the left and right side of the scrotum. Do not pinch
a part of the scrotum that lines up with a pinch on the opposite
side. The crush lines must not overlap the centre-line of the
scrotum (Figure 4).
- Check calves four to six weeks later to be sure the testicles
have shriveled. The testicles swell initially and then degenerate
and shrink in size.
Burdizzo castration sites.
- local anaesthesia plus a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
are needed to eliminate acute pain caused by Burdizzo castration
- acute pain caused by Burdizzo clamps is less than that caused
by surgical, rubber-ring or latex-band castration
Advantages and Disadvantages:
- slow to perform and requires expertise
- unreliable when done incorrectly, leads to stags
- equipment becomes ineffective after long-term use and must
- less reduction in weight gain after castration compared to
surgical or latex-band
Surgical castration is the most certain method of castration because
the testicles are removed completely. It is best performed before
or after fly season and when calves can be turned into a dry area
after the surgery. Surgical castration can be performed on any age
calf. It is easier to learn on calves with larger testicles. However,
larger and older calves experience more stress and usually bleed
more than younger calves.
Good restraint is essential to minimize the risk to calves and
Instruments for surgical castration include the Newberry knife,
scalpel (Figure 5) and emasculator.
- Wash and clean your hands and surgical equipment using an antiseptic
solution. Position yourself at the side or rear of the calf and
reach forward between the hind legs.
- Make sure the scrotum is clean. You may use a mild surface
disinfectant (such as iodine) to prepare the incision sites.
- Make an incision to open the skin of the scrotum using Method
A or B.
Incision Method A
- Make the incisions on the outside of the lower half of each
side of the scrotum (Figure 6).
- If you are right handed, use your left hand to force one testicle
to the bottom outside of the scrotum. Once the testicle is in
the proper site, hold it there and use a scalpel to make a generous
incision over the testicle. The incision may extend into the testicle
Incision method A.
Incision Method B
- Use one incision to remove the bottom third of the scrotum.
To do this, first push the testicles up toward the body so the
lower third of the scrotum is empty.
- Grasp the tip of the scrotum between your thumb and forefinger.
Use a sharp scalpel to cut across the scrotum just above your
thumb and finger. This cut will completely remove the tip of the
scrotum and the testicles will fall down or can be pulled down
by reaching up into the open scrotum (Figure 7).
- After making the incision, the remainder of the castration is
Incision method B.
- Pull the testicle through the incision. It will be covered with
a thin, but tough, white membrane. Separate this from the testicle
by pulling it away near the tip of the testicle.
- The remaining tough cord contains the artery, veins and spermatic
- In older calves, use an emasculator (Figure 8) to crush and
cut both blood vessels and spermatic cord at the same time. An
emasculator lessens the risk of bleeding. (The emasculator must
be placed on the cord correctly in order to crush the cord properly).
- In younger calves (<3 months), it is common to separate the
blood vessels from the vas deferens. Shave through the vas with
the scalpel. Gently pull the vessels until the strand breaks.
- Repeat on the other side.
There should not be any tissue hanging from the scrotum once the
castration is complete.
If using incision Method B, the castration is complete. If using
Method A, once both testicles have been removed, make an incision
completely through the bottom half of the median septum to ensure
- local anaesthesia plus a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
eliminate acute pain caused by surgical castration
- acute pain caused by surgical castration is greater than that
caused by Burdizzo clamps
Advantages and Disadvantages:
- not bloodless, bleeding is a risk
- sure castration because the testicles are removed
- more time to perform than banding
- risk of infections because of open wounds
- not recommended for castrating bull calves at a feedlot with
wet, muddy conditions
- greater reduction in weight gain after castration compared
- surgical wounds heal more quickly than those from rubber ring
- risk of injury to the surgeon
- Provide a clean, dry environment for calves after castration.
- Inspect the cattle closely for two weeks after castration.
With latex bands, the scrotum should drop off within seven weeks
- Look for swelling, signs of infection, tetanus and abnormal
- Treat wounds as needed.
- Get professional help when calves show swelling, severe pain
- Physical castration causes pain and side effects.
- Young calves recover quicker and have fewer complications than
- Acute pain caused by Burdizzo methods is less than that caused
by surgical, rubber-ring or latex-band castration.
- There is no evidence to show young calves experience less pain
than older calves.
- Local anaesthesia eliminates acute pain caused by rubber-ring
or latex-band castration.
- Local anaesthesia combined with a systemic analgesic, such
as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ketoprofen, eliminates
pain caused by Burdizzo or surgical castration.
- Ketoprofen alone may not eliminate pain-induced behaviour seen
during the castration process.
- Castration of older males without anaesthesia is deemed inhumane
- Use of pain relief is an additional cost for producers. Pain
relief may be limited by the availability of drugs for farmers
to use and the scarcity of veterinarians in farm animal practice.
- In Ontario, auxiliaries employed by veterinarians may administer
local nerve blocks and castrate cattle less than two months of
age while under immediate, direct or indirect supervision of a
veterinarian. They may castrate cattle greater than two months
of age when under immediate or direct supervision.
Anaesthesia and Pain Relief
Choices in anaethesia and pain relief include:
- short-acting, local anaesthetic (e.g. lidocaine) with an effect
for about 45-90 minutes
- an epidural injection designed to block pain in the hind
quarters and testicular region
- local injections into the testicles, incision site or spermatic
- alpha-2 agonist (xylazine) given alone or in conjunction with
a local anaesthetic will provide analgesia for a few hours
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ketoprofen
used alone, with local anaesthetics or with xylazine
Gerrit Rietveld, Animal Care Specialist, OMAFRA, drew the diagrams
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