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How to castrate bull calves.

If you are going to fatten a male calf for the freezer beyond about six months of age it is generally recommended the calf be castrated. This not only improves the flavor of the beef, but a steer will put on weight faster than a bull and is less dangerous to handle.

You should be able to arrange with your source to have the calf castrated for you, probably at little, if any, additional cost. If you are willing to do it yourself, there are several methods of doing so:

A calf under about two months of age can be banded. A special spreading tool is used to place a small doughnut shaped band, call an elastrator, between the scrotum and body. It is fairly easy and bloodless, assuming you can catch the calf in the first place. Its primary disadvantage is that if both testicles are not in the scrotum the calf will still have bull characteristics. Since the blood supply to the scrotum and testicles has been cut off, they will shrivel and fall off in a week or so.

In older calves a clamping device, called a Burdizzo, can be used. It crushes the cords and blood vessels supplying the testicles so that they shrivel up within the scrotum. It is bloodless, but requires an experienced operator.

Most castration is done with a knife to physically remove the testicles. While both of the above methods work, removal is 100% certainty. Removal by cutting uses one of two methods:

The first is to cut off the bottom third of the scrotum, exposing the testicles within their membrane. The membrane around each testicle is then slit, exposing the testicle, which is then pulled away from the body until its cords and blood vessels snap in two. Stretching the cords and blood vessels until they snap helps to seal the ends within the scrotum. Since the bottom of the scrotum has been removed, blood drainage is assured. However, it results in a large, open wound into which both flies and dirt can enter.

The second, and more commonly used method, is to press the individual testicle against the bottom of the scrotum. A slit is then made through the bottom of the scrotum with the length dependent on the size of the testicle. The slit at the bottom of the scrotum will allow any resulting blood to drain out; however, normally there is little blood loss. Once the testicle is exposed, the membrane around it is slit to expose the testicle itself. It is then removed by pulling. Properly done, the testicle will pop out with one slice.

It is important to monitor the calf or calves for several days afterwards to ensure any blood has properly drained from the scrotum. A temporary swelling of the scrotum, to about twice its original size, is to be expected. If the swelling is pronounced or prolonged it indicates it is full of clotted blood. It will likely be necessary to constrain the calf again and to unseal the cuts for proper drainage. You can normally do this by squeezing the scrotum from top to bottom to force out the matter inside.

Some tips from personal experience:

The safest time to castrate is during cold weather when flies will not be a problem. Some people also go by the signs of the moon.

The calves have a tendency to kick, and I certainly don't blame them. Since you are positioned immediately behind, the kick is both swift and painful. If you are right handed, put your left leg between the calf's back legs and hold its left leg to the side and back a little. If it now kicks with that leg, it will either go behind or catch you on the less sensitive back of your leg. You are out of the way of the other leg. If left handed, reverse the position. Also be aware their nervousness may cause loose bowels and I have been squirted on more than once.

Having a second person hold the tail across the back is suppose to immobilize the hind quarters, but doesn't help much in that regard. What it does do is keep the tail out of your way and to hold the calf against the side of the chute.

During cold weather in about half the calves the testicles will have been pulled up under the skin for warmth. You need to find and return them to the scrotum for removal.

For a knife I use a new single edge razor blade, put into a container of rubbing alcohol between uses to sterilize it.

The testicle will be connected by cords at both the top and bottom, with the cord to the bottom running alongside of the testicle. Slip a finger between the cord and testicle and disconnect the bottom cord by pulling. Then firmly grip the testicle and pull sharply.

Spray the entire area afterwards with a disinfectant/fly repellent. It will only last for a couple of days, but that is all you will need.

I do not know how painful of an experience it is to the calves. Some don't seem to mind at all and show little discomfort afterwards. Others object strongly and walk stiff legged for several days.

For your first experience you might want to arrange for the County Extension Agent to come by for handson training. A vet will also perform the castration, but at cost to you, and is recommended for older animals ..

An added "bonus" ... if you will

Not wanting to sound gross, livestock testicles are a standard fare in several cultures. After the outer membrane (tunic) has been removed, they are frequently simply sliced and sauteed in butter, or they may be served as rich garnishes for other meats. The first year I castrated a calf crop, a co-worker of my helper asked for them. As I recall, he intended to bread and deep fry them.

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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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