The castration of male calves is an important economic tool to increase profits in a beef enterprise. In a dairy enterprise, if male calves are being kept for meat or for draught oxen it is equally important that they be castrated.

Why castrate ?

•    Castrated males are more docile and less aggressive than entire (uncastrated) males. If males are being kept as draught animals castration makes them easier to train and handle.
•    There is higher demand for meat from steers (castrated males) than meat from bulls and steer meat fetches a higher price.
•    Castration eliminates unwanted breeding and allows the farmer to take control of his breeding programme.
•    Bulls incur higher costs in terms of paddocking, fencing etc to keep them confined.
•    Enhances safety for other animals and staff.

Castration should be:
•    Done at an early age
•    Done effectively
•    Done humanely

The earlier castration can be carried out the better it is for the calf and the farmer. 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. Ideally castration can be carried out as early as 2-3days of age. The maximum age of castration should be one month before weaning so that it is fully recovered before weaning. Weaning is a stressful period and if the calf also has to suffer the effects of castration weight gains could be significantly affected.


Castration should be carried out in as clean an environment as possible. All equipment should be clean and sterile and in good working order. Castration causes acute pain to the animal and local anaesthetic should be used to minimise the pain.

Burdizzo (Bloodless castrator)

This is a bloodless method of castration using a specialised tool which cuts off the flow of blood to the testicles and causes them to be resorbed if done correctly.The calf should be standing with the tail held by the handler. Care must be taken not to break the tail. Injection of a local anaesthetic and non-steroid anti-inflammatory will minimise pain. The operator should check the burdizzo to ensure that it is clamping properly. Holding the testicles down and feeling to be sure that the spermatic cord is between the jaws of the burdizzo, the operator uses the burdizzo to clamp the cord of one testicles at a point halfway between the testicle and the junction of the belly wall and scrotum. The burdizzo is held with one hand on the far handle and the other handle resting on the knee of the operator. The free hand is used to ensure that the cord is securely between the jaws of the burdizzo and no part of the testicle is caught in the clamp. The jaws are closed and held firmly closed for 10 seconds. The same procedure is then carried out on the second testicle, at a point 1cm below the first clamp site.

Advantages and Disadvantages
•    The burdizzo is the least painful of the three methods described.
•    There is less reduction in weight gain in steers castrated by burdizzo than other methods. 
•    The process is time-consuming 
•    Calves younger than 1 month cannot be effectively castrated by burdizzo 
•    The procedure requires some level of expertise 
•    Castration can fail if the equipment is not working properly (‘sprung’) or if improper technique is used, resulting in incomplete crushing of the cord. This results in a ‘stag’ or ‘rig.’ 

Elastrator and rings

This is also a  bloodless method, using an elastrator tool and rubber rings and can be carried out on younger calves, less than 3 weeks. The process also cuts off the blood supply to the testicle and causes the scrotum to drop off in 7 – 10 days. The calf should be restrained and a local anaesthetic given. The elastrator tool is expanded, stretching the rubber ring. Both testicles are placed through the rubber ring. The ring is released, encircling the spermatic cord in the scrotum, just above the testicles. The operator checks that both testicles are in place. If not, the ring is cut and the procedure repeated.

Advantages and Disadvantages
•    The method is quicker than the burdizzo and surgical castration. 
•    The process is easier than the others described here. 
•    The procedure causes more pain to the calf than the burdizzo and the pain lasts for a much longer period. 
•    There is a possibility of clostridial infection and tetanus and it is recommended that calves be vaccinated against tetanus and quarter evil before castration if not from vaccinated dams. 
•    Castration can fail if the rings break or one testicle is missed or slips through the ring and is retained in the belly cavity, making the animal a ‘stag’. 

Surgical Castration

This method is not bloodless and requires a sharp knife or scalpel. The procedure can be carried out on calves as young as 1 or 2 days old. The calf should be restrained and held down by a helper. Local anaesthetic and non-steroid anti-inflammatory pain relief should be given. The scalpel must be clean and sterile and the operator’s hands must be sterilised between calves to prevent the spread of infection. With the fingers, push the testicles up into the scrotum and cut off the lower third of the scrotum with the scalpel. Alternatively, cut an incision along the edge of the scrotum, low enough to allow drainage of the wound. With the fingers gently push the testicles down one at a time through the incision.  With a scraping motion of the scalpel, the spermatic cord and blood vessel are severed as high as possible. Antiseptic powder or spray is applied to the wound and fly deterrent applied.An emasculator or burdizzo can be used before the procedure to limit bleeding.

Advantages and Disadvantages
•    This is the only sure method of castration. 
•    Once both testicles are removed there is no chance of the calf becoming a stag. 
•    The method can be used on calves of any age. 
•    Older calves suffer more stress and take longer to recover. 
•    The wound heals quicker than that of the elastrator. 
•    The method causes more long term pan than the burdizzo. 
•    The process takes longer than ringing 
•    Because there is an open wound, there is more chance of infection and fly strike. 

Aftercare and Welfare
•    The calves should be moved into a clean dry environment with their mothers if still unweaned.
•    The calves should be inspected closely for a 2 week period. Ringed calves should lose the scrotum within 10 days.
•    All calves should be checked for swelling, difficulty walking, infection and tetanus and appreopriate treatment given.
•    Wounds should be treated as required.
•    Local anaesthetic should be used for all methods and anti-inflammatories (non-steroid) used for burdizzo and surgical castration.
•    The castration of older males without the use of anaesthetic is inhumane and unethical.

Ref: Rietveld, Animal Care Specialist, OMAFRA, drew the diagrams. 

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