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Three good reasons for early castration of bull calves

published: May 1st 2020
by: Kevin Laurent, beef Extension specialist

These are challenging times market wise and it is easy to dwell on the negative and become complacent in our management. But in times like these we really need to explore every avenue to add value to our calves. If you watch the weekly market reports, you notice that we still have a significant number of intact bull calves being sold. Some producers choose to leave bulls intact until weaning to increase weaning weights. Bulls will be 5-15% heavier at weaning. However, chasing pounds in this manner comes at a discount. Following are three good reasons to castrate bull calves early in life.
    1. It’s the right thing to do. Research trials have shown time and time again that the earlier calves are castrated the better. Early castration is associated with less pain, stress and trauma. In fact, research has shown that calves castrated from 1-7 days old showed very few behaviors associated with pain and their plasma cortisol levels were essentially the same as the calves left intact. Ask yourself. Would you be comfortable inviting your non-agricultural friends out to watch the castration of 500 lb. bulls? I know I wouldn’t.
    2. Avoid the bull discount. Dr. Kenny Burdine has made price data comparisons for 550 pound bulls and steers since 2010. Over the last ten years, the average discount for 550 pound bulls was – $11.20/cwt. or roughly $62/head. In today’s market, a discount that large could be the difference between profit and loss. A 2018 article in Drovers Journal by Dr. Burdine explores the economics of bulls vs steers in more detail https://www .drovers.com/article/value-selling-steer-calves-vs-bull-calves
    3. Keep them gaining. It is well documented that late castration results in depressed weight gains and an increase in sickness. Calves castrated at weaning or on arrival to backgrounding operations can see a reduction in weight gain of a half a pound or more per day. This reduced performance usually lasts for two to four weeks post castration and these calves are twice as likely to get sick. Real-life examples of this was observed this past fall in our Kentucky PVAP-Precondition projects. Producers who castrated at weaning saw heifers outgain steers during the precondition feeding period. Research data has proven definitively that calves castrated at less than 90 days of age and implanted will weigh the same at weaning. So, a $2 dollar investment and a little time will not only return that extra $60 per head at weaning, but also set that calf up for efficient postweaning gains during the precondition or backgrounding period.
    There is still ample time this spring to get those calves castrated. We have all heard the old cliché: “Somebody’s got to do it, might as well be you”. Well, I’ll change that statement slightly. If the calf was born on your farm: “It needs to be you.”

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