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The key to effective and minimally painful castration is to do it early in life. Here’s a rundown on timing, tools and techniques.
Management of pain and stress are important with surgical procedures in cattle. It also deserves more attention within the industry, says Randall Raymond, Simplot Livestock’s director of research and veterinary services.
“As stewards of these animals and their well-being, this is something we must consider. The problem is we don’t have effective and legal pharmacologic tools to manage pain, so we’re left trying to strategize timing and methods of castration to minimize pain and stress to the animal.”
Hilton says the beef industry needs to think about humane considerations. “Just because we’ve done something a certain way for years doesn’t mean it’s the best way. I’ve been a veterinarian for 30 years, and I change how I do things every year. I try to learn better ways. The calf deserves the best we have,” he says.
The Canadian livestock industry is considering requiring pain medication when castrating older animals. “As we get more research on this, our industry in the U.S. may go this route, too, utilizing pain management, similar to what we do when castrating a horse,” Hilton says.
Daniel Thomson, a Kansas State University professor of production medicine and epidemiology, says castration, dehorning, branding, etc., are necessary and routine husbandry procedures.
“We must make sure we’re current regarding the best techniques and opportunities for preventing pain. The main thing we can do in terms of minimizing pain is to do it as early as possible in the calf’s life,” he explains.
Technologies like immunocastration offer promise for the future, but more reliability is needed. There are also consumer perception factors to overcome with use of that technology. “With the methods in use today, our best and most humane option is to castrate calves as young as possible,” Thomson says.
David Rethorst, a Kansas State University DVM, concurs. “We need to encourage producers to castrate early — preferably at birth, but no later than 2-3 months of age. We could help ourselves a lot by doing that,” he says.
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