Dairy bull calves make a good “backyard beef” project and can often be had for a very reasonable price.
And if you don’t mind waiting 18 months or so before the beef is on the table or in the freezer, it may be just the thing for your family.
Under normal circumstances calves raised for beef will be castrated not too long after their testicles descend. Sometimes a producer will wait to castrate if there is a possibility that a particular bull calf may be worth saving as a breeder.
Castration is any procedure that results in a male animal losing the function of the testes. When a bull is castrated he is known as a “steer”.
The castration of farm livestock is done for a few different reasons.
The main reasons are that castration results in better meat quality and a more marketable carcass. Castration lessens the aggressiveness in male animals and it prevents reproduction and sexual behavior.
Circulating testosterone in male animals affects the meat quality. Meat from intact male animals whether it be a rooster, a ram or a bull, is very tough, stringy and strong-tasting.
Castration significantly reduces aggressiveness in livestock. And that makes for less wear and destruction to fences and facilities. A calmer and more docile animal is safer for humans to handle and is safer to other animals. Bulls, especially dairy breed bulls can be very dangerous as they grow. Never ever trust a bull – they can be deadly.
Now I don’t want to give you the idea that meat from an intact bull is uneatable – because it’s not. Ground bull meat makes good spaghetti sauce, chili con carne and tacos, but is too gamey tasting for standard burgers or meatloaf.
In general there are 3 methods of castration used with livestock:
The Elastrator Method
This method is known as banding and is bloodless. A small rubber ring is applied around the scrotum with a special type of pliers known as an Elastrator. Banding should be done only of sufficient height on the scrotum to get both testes into the band and no higher. When the rubber ring is applied the blood supply is interrupted and the testes and scrotum atrophy and wither and eventually fall off. It is a good choice for young animals if they or their mothers have been vaccinated for tetanus. The drawback is if they are not protected against tetanus they run the risk of acquiring tetanus and may die. Tetanus in livestock is almost always fatal. Last year a local cattleman had problems with tetanus after banding older calves. He lost 6 calves in less than a week. Another disadvantage to the banding method is that if one or a part of a testicle is missed, testosterone is still produced resulting in a “staggy steer”. A staggy steer shows many of the same physical traits as a bull – muscular neck, broader crest and head and is not desirable. Staggy steers bring much less at auction.
The Emasculatome Method
This method is sometimes known as the Budizzo method and it is also bloodless. The Emasculatome method uses a special instrument that crushes and rapidly cuts off the blood supply to the testicles one at a time, via the spermatic cords. This causes the testicles to soften and shrink and then to be reabsorbed by the body. The advantage of the Budizzo method is that there is little or no risk of tetanus and it is very quick. The disadvantage is that like the banding method, if not done properly it will result in a staggy steer. The advantage is that it can be used during fly season because it is a bloodless method.
The Surgical Method
This method of castration is the most direct and sure. The surgical method of castration involves cutting the bottom of the scrotal sac and removing the testes. The advantage is that the castration is complete.There is never a doubt because both testes end up on the ground.
The disadvantage is that it is a blood method and hence runs the risk of infection. With this method I use an almanac to help pick the best day.
Most beef cattle raisers in my area of the country use the Elastrator method and band beef calves while they are very young. That’s because beef cattle grow faster than dairy cattle and are usually spookier with people.
With bottle raised dairy bulls sometimes it can be better to delay 2 months or so to promote faster early growth and to reduce any setback to the calf.
Castration by cutting is not painless. Some veterinarians and cattlemen will choose to give a local anesthetic and some will not.
For the Dexter calf in the video below the surgical method of castration was chosen. It was the surest and quickest method and also the safest, due to the time of year, his age and his lack of vaccination. We elected to steer the bull calf because he is not good enough to breed.
Dexter cattle have enough problems without adding any more bad traits to the gene pool.