This is the first article submitted by new Red Devon USA board member Jenny Sabo and we are very happy to have Jenny on board.  The two internet sources that Jenny used for information in her article are listed in the the article.  The first was written by freelance author Marci Whitehurst and the photo used was credited to Ms. Whitehurst.  The second source was taken from a presentation by Joseph M. Stookey titled Painful Procedures and Misconceptions.  There was no credit given for the photo that Jenny used from that source.

Remember that the information in these blog posts are the viewpoints of the author and not necessarily the viewpoints of RDUSA.  This is simply offering information and allowing the readers to determine the value of the information themselves.

The Article

Castration of Calves- Considerations for Spring


Spring is an exciting time for cattle breeders.  The breeding choices made last year are appearing in the fields, healthy calves cavorting at their mother sides, racing across pastures in the evening light or seeking out their creamy mothers’ milk at the first dawn feeding.


With each strong Devon bull calf that appears, or a healthy F1 Devon influenced bull calf, breeders have the choice to castrate, or allow that calf to grow to maturity as a bull.   In a challenging market such as we breeders are seeing this year, efficient, timely, and lower stress castrations are even more  important in building value in our Devon herds.


For those using efficient Devon bulls in their breeding of Devon influence calves, castration of F1 bull calve happens ideally shortly after birth.  The longer the wait, the more likely one is to see long-term problems and higher stress on the animal.  Grant Dewell from Iowa University state “at 4-6 months of age, you may need to give thetanus toxoid, pain meds, and increased monitoring for potential problems”.  It is usually recommended that the tetanus toxoid is given two weeks before castration in or for tetanus antibodies to be present at castration.  Banding at 4 to 6 months causes more prolonged stress that using a knife.  W. Mark Hilton of Elanco Animal Health notes that bulls castrated at 6 to 7 months weigh significantly less 30 days after weaning than those castrated early. Daily gain decreases, as do marbling scores and tenderness when comparing late castrates with those done soon after birth.  There is also significantly more handling time required of operators with later castration, a budgeting and management concern.


With our purebred Devons, many of us who are using a new bull for artificial insemination, or a new live bull, might want to wait until bull calves are close to weaning to decide which calves from that breeding to save into adulthood.  I have had good luck receiving castration assistance from our veterinarian when castrating bull calves at 9-10 months old, around weaning time.  They still are able to benefit from the passive immunity and comfort from their mothers if the castration is achieved just before weaning, the veterinarian can work the calves easily in his chute for a clean, safe procedure.   Newly castrated calves are given clean bedding and low protein, non-inflammatory feed for the first few days after castration, and we have seen 10 years of excellent recovery in our Devon bull calves at this later castration date.



The easiest method is banding near birth, making sure to include both testicles are included and the band is cleanly placed above both testicles so that the scrotum is not crushed.  “If calves are castrated at or soon after birth, the method of castration [surgical versus rubber band] shows no significant difference with regard to stress or weight gain,” Hilton says.


Hilton emphasizes that good nutrition coupled with good practice brings the highest benefit.   He prefers using a Newberry knife for castration, but says whatever instrument is used, cleanliness is key. “Put your knife in a bucket of betadine water and wash and dry your hands in between each calf. You can dip your hands in the antiseptic water and dry off. This greatly reduces the risk of infection.”

Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer based in Montana.


It is recommended that you use the castrating method you are comfortable with. From left to right are the Newberry knife, bander and emasculator as a few of the options. Photo by Marci Whitehurst.



But the bigger questions here are: What age should we be castrating animals? Do we want to devise techniques to castrate adult bulls? Or should we be doing this procedure when the bull is young? Is there any evidence that says younger is better? Intact bull calves gain 5% faster from birth to weaning compared to steers castrated at birth, but implanted steer calves gain 4% faster than control steers (Bagley et al, 1989 J. Anim. Sci. 67:1258). Therefore, bull calves could be castrated at birth and implanted, which would result in nearly equal gains for implanted steers compared to bulls. The main advantage of castrating at birth would be that the healing process is so much quicker in younger animals, something we have known for quite some time (Johnstone 1944, Aust. Vet J. 20:286). Animal welfare could be advanced if the discussion shifted away from the topic of trying to decide which device is least painful and instead considered the maximum age at which castration should be performed without anesthetics. We have conclusive evidence that younger is better, from the animal’s perspective.





Smaller Devon farms and ranches might choose one method, larger operations might choose a different one.  I hope that this gives a few options as we all head into the joys of spring calving.


Jenny Sabo

Harrison, Montana