Intact bull calves sometimes cost less than steers, but decreased health and performance might negate any advantage.

Researchers at Oklahoma State University conducted a survey of eastern Oklahoma sale barns in 1997 and 1999 and found that on average, bull calves sold for $2.00 to $3.00 per hundredweight less than steers of similar weight. Feeders and stocker operators sometimes purchase intact bull calves based on price, and castrate them upon arrival. OSU researchers recently conducted a trial to evaluate additional production costs associated with purchasing lightweight bulls vs steers for use in feedlot or stocker operations.

The researchers used 368 lightweight, newly received calves in two separate experiments to examine the effect of method of castration on receiving health and performance. In the first experiment, the researchers compared three treatments:

1) purchasing castrated males;

2) purchasing intact males and banding them shortly after arrival;

3) purchasing intact males and surgically castrating them shortly after arrival.

In the first experiment; banding intact males shortly after arrival decreased daily gain by 19 percent compared with purchasing steers, and by 14.9 percent compared with surgically castrating intact males shortly after arrival. They observed no differences for intake, feed efficiency, or morbidity.

The second experiment examined the differences between purchasing steers or purchasing intact males and surgically castrating them shortly after arrival (cut bulls). In this trial, steers gained .58 pound more and consumed 1.26 pound more feed per day compared with cut bulls. Steers also had less overall morbidity, with fewer needing treatment for bovine respiratory disease compared with cut bulls.

The researchers note the need for more experiments comparing the effects of purchasing steers versus bulls on performance, health, and economics. The data suggest, however, performance losses, increased morbidity and higher medical costs related to castration could out-weigh the price advantage of intact bull calves.