One of the statements I commonly hear from calf producers is that bulls bring just as much as steers, so why bother? While top quality light bull calves may bring as much as plainer quality steers, these producers are not comparing apples to apples, because there is a marked difference in similar quality steer and bull calves. According to Lindsey Grant of McAlester Union Stockyards there is currently about a $5 to $7/cwt price difference between bulls and steers of similar quality at weights between 425 and 550 pounds. On calves between 550 and 650 pounds the gap widens to about $12/cwt, and for 800 pound yearlings the difference can easily be $25/cwt. This translates to lost revenue of $30.00, $72.00, or $200.00 respectively. With today’s high input costs for fuel, feed, hay, labor, equipment, fertilizer, and pasture this can easily be the difference in a profit or a loss.
Why do stocker and feeder operators want the calves castrated before arrival at their new homes? There are several good reasons. No matter what procedure you use it involves pain and stress for the calf. This stress leads to increased chances of health problems such as shipping fever or pneumonia. When the calves are castrated at a young age and while still on their mothers this risk is negligible, but when added to the stresses of weaning, marketing, transporting and comingling at the feedlot or background yard it becomes a major factor. In short, the stress is much easier for the calf to handle if he can run back to “mama.” Research has shown that calves arriving at feedlots as bulls are twice as likely to get sick as steers and death losses are significantly higher. Additionally, rates of gain are affected for weeks versus days when they are “ranch weaned and castrated.” Steers also have less aggression and sexual activity which translates into better gains. Steers have a lower incidence of “dark cutters”. Steers have higher and more consistent quality grades due to better marbling. Steer carcasses command higher prices on the market. Stocker and feeder operators know all of this. They operate in a very competitive world on tight margins and have to factor these things into the prices they are willing to pay for your calves. If they don’t they won’t be in business to be buyers for your calves for very long.
There are several acceptable methods of castration and the best choice depends on your operation. Many producers today feel most comfortable with banding to interrupt the blood supply to the genitals of the calf. With all types of banders the calf is susceptible to tetanus and protection should be used. Newborns and very young calves can be castrated with the small sheep type bands. Because very young animals are not yet able to respond immunologically, they should be given tetanus antitoxin, which is a passive transfer of immune products which protects them. Older calves can be castrated with the Calicrate™ bands and bander. This procedure works well on larger calves and yearlings but is more expensive for both the application instrument and the bands. With this technique calves should be protected at the time of the procedure with tetanus antitoxin or three weeks before-hand with tetanus toxoid. The tetanus protection offered by products commonly known as 8-way blackleg is tetanus toxoid and thus offers no protection to very young calves or calves vaccinated at the time of banding. With all types of banding procedures it is very important to make sure that both testicles are well down in the scrotum and below the band. Failure to do so may result in a “stag” which is very undesirable on the market. After the band is correctly applied the scrotum and testicles gradually die and drop off after two or three weeks.