Let’s discuss the various tools and techniques:

Knife. Raymond says a sharp pocketknife and a very young calf are generally the least stressful combination for castration.

“Technique and sanitation are important, but using a sharp knife to remove a small testicle, pulling on the spermatic cord and scraping the blood vessels with the knife [to reduce bleeding] create minimal stress, and calves heal quickly. This is my preferred method in young calves,” he says.

Banding. In very young calves, small elastrator bands called “cheerios” are another option. There’s no open wound as with a knife castration, so banding may be preferable if flies are present or the calves are in dirty conditions, Raymond says.

Care must be taken to ensure the band is placed above both testicles, around the spermatic cords. A properly applied and tightened band cuts off blood flow to the testicles, which will then atrophy and fall off.

“Some experience is needed to do it effectively and safely. There is some risk of entrapping more tissue in the band than appropriate, thus strangulating that tissue. It may be fat, but the worst-case scenario would be a piece of intestine that falls down through the inguinal ring,” Raymond says.

castration tips for beef calvesUsing small bands on young calves, however, poses minimal risk as the band isn’t very big, the testicles are small and there’s not much extra tissue. “But people performing the procedure need to be aware of the risks,” he says. “If the calf is in pain afterward, or lies around for a longer time than you’d expect, a close check is needed.”

After applying the band, check to make sure both testicles are captured. “If a testicle is missed, the scrotum is shortened, and often the testicle is pushed up into the inguinal ring or body cavity, which makes it more difficult to find and remove later,” Raymond says. Clues that there might be a testicle remaining would be bull-like behavior or appearance and muscle formation.

Hilton says he’s castrated hundreds of older calves that had either one or both testicles retained. “It’s difficult because of scar tissue. I always give them tranquilizers and lay them down for this surgery,” he says.

Emasculators. On larger calves cut with a knife, an emasculator is sometimes used to crush the cord following testicle removal. “With larger blood vessels and more blood supply to the testicles, there is more risk for bleeding. Emasculators are quick and effective, and help control blood flow,” Raymond says.

Adequate calf restraint is critical for safety. “The calf should be stretched out on the ground with ropes on front and hind legs, or in a chute where you can work without being kicked. The emasculator is bulky and needs to be held for a moment on the cord to make sure it’s crushed properly,” Raymond says.

Newberry knife. Usable on larger calves, this tool is a combination of knife and pliers. The knife splits the side of the scrotum (both sides simultaneously), which allows rapid access to the testicle and spermatic cord. It also allows drainage, which is important on larger calves, Raymond says.

“The operator should be very familiar with the tool to use it properly, and it must be sharp to do the procedure quickly and effectively without undue pain. I recommend this tool when castrating calves at 400-600 lbs.,” he says.

Henderson tool. Meyer says a cattle feeder, Lance Henderson, invented the tool because about 40% of the male calves he buys are intact. “This is frequently the case when buying male calves from Missouri, Arkansas and the Southeast,” Meyer says.

“The Henderson tool is a clamp that is placed above the testicle. Then it slides into a cordless drill, like a drill bit. Once you have the cord stripped down, you just clip this apparatus onto the cord and hit the drill button. It quickly spins and twists off and crushes the cord and blood vessels, sealing them off,” Meyer says.

The procedure eliminates bleeding when castrating large calves and bulls. “It’s fast and effective, but requires experience. It provides some of the same benefits as emasculators, but takes less time to crush or sever the spermatic cord,” Meyer says.

“The key to reducing complications in older animals is to really open up the bottom of the scrotum [for adequate drainage] when you cut them, and then use this tool,” he says. “If you’re really clean and give the animal long-acting antibiotics, infections will be rare.”

Banding large calves. Several tools and methods exist for banding large calves, Raymond says. The advantage of banding larger calves in a feedlot is there are no open wound, though there are challenges.

“Banding creates an area of the body with no blood supply, which tetanus loves, so it’s critical that cattle receive a tetanus shot when banding — even when using an elastrator band on small calves. We don’t see tetanus as often in that age group [compared with large calves], but it is still a risk,” Raymond says.

Just as in small calves, operators must ensure both testicles are in the scrotum, and that the band is tight enough to completely block all blood supply, but not so tight that the band breaks or causes damage above the area that you want to fall off, Raymond explains. “If the band breaks or isn’t tight enough, there won’t be complete loss of blood supply to the testicle.”

Another challenge with banding is that large testicles swell and become even larger. After applying the band, making two small incisions at the bottom of the scrotum — one over each testicle — will allow fluids to drain. “This facilitates atrophy and shrinking of the testicles. In some cases, the calf may have to be restrained 2-3 days later for reopening of those drainage ports. If the testicles are very large, once they start to dry up we surgically remove the scrotum and testicles, just below the band,” Raymond says. Once the dead tissue is removed, the area heals more quickly, with less potential for additional problems.

“If done correctly and blood supply is completely eliminated, banding can be a fast, effective and clean method to castrate big calves. We’ve done trials investigating banding’s effects on calves, such as the time it takes for them to get back on feed, vs. cutting them and using an emasculator. The two groups had similar results for time back on feed,” Raymond says.

A few years ago, he says he’d have argued that banding caused more sustained pain in big calves than castration with a sharp knife. “More recent data suggests this probably isn’t the case. Once the blood [and nerve] supply to the scrotum and testicles is eliminated, nerve function is compromised and pain sensation in that area is gone. Feed intake research supports this conclusion. If done correctly, the time back to full feed is similar for both methods,” he says.

Burdizzo clamp. The Burdizzo clamp is placed above the testicles in the scrotum; when pressure is applied, the spermatic cord is crushed while the scrotum is left intact. The effect, as well as advantages and disadvantages, is similar to banding.

Crushing the cord removes the blood supply, and the testicles die and shrink within the scrotum. Over time, the body resorbs the atrophied tissue.

“The advantage is no open wound; the disadvantages are the challenges of technique and making sure both cords are crushed completely. Not being able to see the testicle removed or sloughed off, you don’t really know if both testicles are properly affected,” Raymond says.