Beginning Farmer: Castrating Bull Calves

We have now gone through castrating our third round of bull calves.  As a beginning farmer, I didn't know what we were doing, if it hurt, the best way to do it, etc.  So if you are curious at all what goes into it, I'm here to help!

Why Castrate?

I hope I don't get shadow-banned for mentioning castration, but it is important to talk about it.  When raising boy (bull) bottle calves, since they have no mother, they start thinking the human feeding them is a bull too. This can be dangerous when they are full grown bulls, with a lot of testosterone, thinking humans can shove them around too. 

When a bull calf becomes castrated, they are what is called steer.  They cannot reproduce, since their gonads are gone.  Steer then don't produce as much testosterone, making them easier to manage while still growing larger. 

Different Ways to Castrate

The first time we castrated the first bull calf, David read a lot and watched videos on how to do it.  We decided against the surgical way, which many consider easier and quicker, especially with larger herd.  Castration surgery can then happen all in one day, when the calves are bigger, and they can be released back into the herd.  David and I have no experience, didn't feel comfortable performing surgery, and have a small herd, so it was a lot easier to catch one, watch them for days after, and ensure the gonads drop off.  

So we chose the rubber band method.  It's not a literal rubber band, but it looks like one.  It's small, looks almost like a Cheerio.  There's a metal tool that you can put the band around, then pinch together like the opposite of pliers, and it separates the band out, stretching it.  We feed gonads through, ensuring that BOTH are fed through the band.  If we miss one it can be extremely painful for the calf and it will not make them a steer.  Once both are through, the tool is released, the band shrinks back down and stops blood flow from reaching them.  

Then What?

At first I was worried that it would hurt the calf, but after doing it so many times, the ear tag seems to hurt them more, and that's just an ear piercing.  They don't even care about the band on their extremity.  After a few days to weeks the gonads that have slowly shriveled up just randomly come off, along with the band.  The skin is slowly closed up, so there is never blood, and again the calf never seems to be in pain. 

We like to wait until the calf is about a month old, especially as a bottle calf, to make sure that they are growing and thriving before we start messing with their anatomy.  With Red's and Penny's first baby we did those guys at two weeks old, since they get harder to catch the older they get.  


If you ask 10 different cattle ranchers what they do for castrating, you will probably get many different answers.  The first bottle calf we banded we didn't give them a tetanus shot.  Then we had the vet out for the one bottle calf that almost died, and the vet was telling us horror stories of ranchers that banded without giving the shot.  After she was telling us so many we decided that we would give them this shot first, which we can buy at Tractor Supply Company. Again, some see it as unnecessary, but we would never want to risk the health of our animal because we wanted to save money and time. 


So there you have it.  More about cattle castration than I'm sure you've ever thought about.  But we like to be upfront with our ranching practices, and also to help educate you if you'd ever like to raise your own cattle herd.  Let us know if you have any further questions about this! We love helping!