I know you are all dying to know all the gory details of how I castrated that calf yesterday, right? That’s why you came back today, no? I bet more than one of you are trying to picture me doing this and coming up blank. So, how do you castrate a calf? It’s simple really.
There are two main methods used: surgical and banding. We actually did both today. Surgical causes more acute (immediate) pain for the calf while banding causes more chronic pain. The castration I performed was surgical.
In a surgical castration, you simply cut off the tip of the scrotum (one-quarter to one-third of it) and pull out the testes. It is trickier than it sounds as they are bloody and slippery and hard to grab. You want to make sure everything is sprayed down with iodine before and after the procedure.
Banding is nice because it doesn’t require an incision which means there is far less chance of infection. It also presents less immediate pain for the calf. You use a tool to slip a very tight rubber band around the top of the scrotum. This cuts off blood to the testes which shrivel up over the course of the next few weeks. This is what we did to Waldo.
The problem with banding is that it can cause chronic pain and discomfort for the calf, at least until the band is removed several weeks later. The pain can be enough to discourage the calf from eating and walking normally. That is why we try, whenever possible, to use the surgical method.
A calf can be castrated anywhere from one day to six or so months old. Some studies suggest that testosterone helps steers grow faster and that it is better to leave them uncastrated as long as possible. However, we swing in the other direction, choosing to castrate our calves as young as possible. Veins and arteries are less developed so there is less blood when using the surgical method. That means there is less chance of the calf hemorrhaging and less chance of infection. Also younger calves also tend to heal faster than older calves.
For more on castrating calves: