This article focuses on the castration of male cattle, covering why this practice is performed, the primary methods, timing, and legislative requirements.
The castration of male cattle intended for beef production is becoming more common in Ireland, given the shift from bull beef to steer production.
According to Dr Bernadette Earley, Teagasc Grange Researcher, castration is considered to cause a degree of pain and stress.
The practice has been shown to elicit physiological stress, inflammatory reactions, pain-associated behaviour, suppression of immune function and a reduction in performance.
She highlighted that the nature and duration of an animal’s response to castration are dependent on several factors. She listed these as follows: method employed, the age of animals, the post-castration management, and whether pain relief is provided.
Castration decreases the management problems associated with the aggressive and sexual behaviour of bulls. Furthermore, the incidence of dark-cutting meat is lower among castrated than among intact bulls.
The researcher pointed out that the castration of cattle is usually performed to prevent sexual behaviour, reduce aggression, and increase handling safety.
In Ireland, cattle can be castrated, other than by a veterinary practitioner, before it becomes six months of age using a burdizzo or before it attains eight days of age using a rubber ring, in both cases, without the use of anaesthesia and analgesia.
“Over these age limits, local anaesthesia, using a prescription-only medicine (POM), must be administered by a veterinary practitioner to animals intended for castration.”
Main methods of castration
Techniques to castrate male cattle include:
- The application of rubber rings or tightened latex bands;
- Surgical removal of the testicles;
- Use of a Burdizzo instrument to crush the testicular cords.
There are two principal surgical techniques for castrating male cattle that a veterinary practitioner performs.
Earley outlined the first technique, involves excision of the distal one-third of the scrotum with a scalpel or sharp castration knife to expose the testicles by descent through the scrotal incision.
In the second technique, the lateral scrotal walls are incised with a scalpel or a Newberry knife to expose the testicles vertically.
“The advantage of the Newberry knife is that both the lateral walls and the median septum are simultaneously incised, thereby enhancing wound drainage.”
“Proper surgical hygiene must be observed during the castration procedure to avoid any unnecessary cross-contamination, infections, or sepsis. Concurrent clostridial immunisation is recommended.”
According to Earley, burdizzo castration is based on the principle that crushing destroys the spermatic cord carrying blood to the testicles but that the scrotum’s skin remains intact.
“Each spermatic cord is crushed twice (second crush below the first) for 10 seconds each along the neck of the scrotum with the Burdizzo to ensure completeness of the castration procedure.”
The burdizzo must be in good condition. The jaws must be parallel and close uniformly across their width so the pressure will be even across the jaws.”
“Leave the burdizzo slightly open when not in use. With the Burdizzo technique, the testicle is left to atrophy in the scrotum. Because of the lack of open wounds, the potential for haemorrhage or infection is minimised. Infection or maggot infestation seldom occurs.”
Earley revealed that banding castration involves applying a specially designed elastic band with the aid of an applicator (gander) around the neck of the scrotum, proximal to the testicles.
“This will cause ischaemic necrosis of the testicles, eventually leading to testicular atrophy and sloughing of the scrotum.”
“Tetanus has been reported in banded calves. Therefore, animals should receive tetanus prophylaxis to minimise the risk. Proper immunisation controls tetanus risk, and Tetanus toxoid (not anti-toxin) must be used.”
“It is important to read and follow vaccine instructions carefully and to vaccinate animals at least one month before carrying out the procedure and again, administer a booster vaccine on the day of banding.”
Rubber ring castration
Small rubber rings are used for calves less than one month of age (rubber ring castration). A heavy wall latex band is used for older calves along with a grommet to fasten the tubing at the appropriate tension securely.
A small rubber ring is placed around the scrotum’s neck to cut off the blood supply to the scrotum and testicles. All tissue below the ring will die and fall off.
“Do not use elastrator rings unless both testicles are present in the scrotum. Thus, they should not be used on cryptorchids or on calves with any abnormalities as described previously.”
Timing of castration of male cattle
According to Earley, producers have a general perception that delaying castration could extend the production advantages of keeping animals as bulls beyond puberty or weaning.
“While after puberty, bulls always grow faster than castrates, the live-weight advantage is largely lost when the bulls are ultimately castrated.”
“A number of studies have shown no advantage in delaying castration up to 17 months of age in terms of slaughter weight or carcass weight at 22 months.”
“Do not try to castrate animals until you have been taught and are guided by someone experienced in the proper techniques.”