In the United States, more than 17 million bulls are castrated yearly that range in age from 1 day to 1 year old. It is well known that this procedure is painful and causes a period of slowed growth rate and poorer feed efficiency, especially if the procedure is delayed until the calves get older and heavier. If castration is performed at the feedlot or backgrounding operation, these calves have a marked reduction in weight gain and are twice as likely to get sick as steers (one study found 28% sickness in steers vs 60% sickness in bulls castrated on arrival). The benefits of castration for feedlot owners and those who retain ownership through the feeding phase far outweigh the negative effects and include:
1. Reduced aggressiveness and sexual activity by lowering testosterone levels
2. Decreased number of "dark cutters" due to high muscle pH
3. Higher quality grade-more consistent, marbled, and tender beef
4. Steer carcasses command higher prices at market
Although these advantages are clearly proven, many cow-calf producers do not castrate because they are afraid steers will not wean off as heavy as bull calves despite the fact that research has proven this to be untrue. Even though steers command a higher price at the market, the difference in price has not been enough to overcome the reluctance of many to adopt this as a routine practice. However, the rapidly changing situation of the welfare implications of cattle castration may ultimately move the industry to demand early castration or adopt some method of pain control if castration is delayed.