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Pay attention to castration procedures in calves

Animal Health: Proper technique, timing and painkillers produce the best results

We now have many tools at our disposal for castration of beef and dairy calves. Newer techniques coupled with use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) when used in skilled hands will ensure the procedure is done properly and welfare issues are addressed. Most producers are ahead of the beef code recommendations for castration.

Ideally the castration needs to be done properly on the farm, because quite frankly a feedlot is not the place for a number of reasons including having proper facilities and the stress on larger animals. Over the years, especially with higher markets, calves identified as bulls were probably not discounted as much as they should be

Castration rings applied at a day of age are the easiest to do and cause the least stress. It is usually convenient timing as often calves are also being handled for tagging and shots. If growth implants are used at this time, animal growth will be about as good as if raising an intact bull calf and you don’t have the worry about castrating when the animal is older.

However, there are too many “belly nuts” showing up in our Canadian feedlots. We must all examine how these apparent misses happen and what can be done to prevent them. Older calves can be knife castrated at a few months of age at the proverbial “branding time” before turnout to pasture. Ensure the most skilled individual is performing the castration as the quicker the procedure with a sharp scalpel or knife the less risk of infection, excessive bleeding or inflammation. It is starting to become commonplace that producers are using pain killers during treatments, administering NSAID products such as Banamine or Metacam in their many forms. Since the calf is dealing with several stressors at this time it is money well spent.

Tetanus vaccine imperative

While it is still preferred that calves be castrated early within the first three to five months of age, Callicrate has developed a bander for older middle-sized calves and put on the same way as bands at birth. This technique that is becoming popular is easy to use but be warned, it is imperative these older calves have a tetanus vaccine. Tetanus is found in some of the 8-way and 9-way clostridial (blackleg) vaccines. The two brands I am most familiar with are Covexin plus or Tasvax 8. It should say tetanus on the label. At this age calves are often given their first or second blackleg vaccine so this does not become a duplication. Just make doubly sure the blackleg vaccine contains tetanus.

Castrating older calves sometimes is the only management option. For example, purebred producers raising breeding bulls may not know until bulls are culled at semen evaluation time which animals will be kept and which will enter the feeding system.

Use of painkillers is humane and makes economic sense. It has been found that with all painful procedures the anti-inflammatory drugs help to keep the calves eating so from an economic standpoint the calves do better. Calves are also healthier and less prone to succumb to things like pneumonia or digestive upsets.

The real problem with castrations are those that end up unbeknown to anyone at the feedlot. These are the “belly nuts” high flankers, which get bought as steers but at the feedlot are discovered partially intact (usually one testicle). These are a real risk to the feedlot as they are much more difficult to cut, are usually very big and staggy-looking, and quite frankly the feedlots really don’t want them. Feedlots have figured out what bulls cost them and generally intact bulls coming to the auction market usually is a sign not many other preventative measures such as vaccinating have been done. Buyer beware.

We all as producers must work with our veterinarian as to the most appropriate method of castration based on age of calf, time of year, and resources at our disposal. We need to aim for as close to 100 per cent success rate as we can and use painkillers when advised. This will save needless problems down the line.

If we diligently work to do the best job of castration and look after these calves they will return dividends in the long run. Animal welfare issues will be addressed, plus the entire cattle industry benefits. TLC and pain killers combined with good technique is what is required. This job should ultimately fall to the cow-calf and purebred producers.

About the author

Columnist

Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.

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