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Why a farmer should consider castrating their bulls

By Paul Kang'ethe
A winning healthy bull showcased at this years, Nairobi Show. Photo: Alex Wachira, Standard.
The castration of male cattle is a common practice throughout the world. 
It is defined as the removal or inactivation of the testicles of a male animal. 
It is achieved by removing the testicles surgically, damaging them irreparably, or causing them to waste away by restricting blood supply. 
A bull is intact male cattle while a castrated one is known as a steer. 
The main reasons why bulls are castrated include to:
• Stop the production of male hormones.
• Prevent unplanned mating.
• Decrease the costs of managing bulls, that is larger and stronger facilities.
• Produce meat with a consistent quality acceptable to consumers, that is a higher grade and better marbling. 
  Intact male cattle or bulls tend to produce lower quality grade, less consistent and less tender meat.
• Obtain price premiums and avoid price discounts from feedlots and meatpackers.
• Decrease aggression to enhance on-farm safety for handlers and animals.
Bull castration should be ideally performed when the animal is as young as possible, preferably soon after birth. Pain mitigation must be used when castrating bulls older than six months of age.
The castration procedure should be performed by a well-experienced person using proper, clean, well-maintained equipment and accepted techniques.
It should be avoided during weaning or other stressful events due to immunity instability at those times.
Castration can be done using surgery that is “knife-cut”, or by restricting blood flow to the testes by using a banding tool called an elastrator. 
Although usually less common, a specialized clamp called a Burdizzo may also be used to crush the testicular cord and associated tissues.
There may however be risks, including pain, swelling, bleeding, and infection.
They should be reduced by using proper techniques, clean tools, adhering to a proper vaccination protocol and castrating animals when they are young.
Pain medication, such as anesthetics and analgesics, is effective at reducing pain and improving welfare. 
A number of different pain-control products are commercially available. Producers use pain medication for castration, in consultation with their veterinarians, more than ever before.  
Timing
A farmer should consider castrating calves at the youngest age practically possible, and prior to weaning avoiding the fly and insect season.
As an animal gets older, the health and welfare risks of castration usually increase correspondingly. 
The area of affected tissue thus becomes larger, and the impact on animal performance increases. 
Castrating bull calves soon after birth, therefore, it improves animal welfare, better health and feedlot gains, and also enhances marbling and tenderness of the carcass compared to animals castrated at or post-weaning. 
Pain control is required when castrating bulls over six months of age.
Castration, particularly using surgical methods, is commonly performed when calves are three to six weeks of age, often at the same time as other common procedures such as vaccination and branding. 
Recent research shows that acute pain increases when calves are branded and castrated simultaneously. Pain medication was effective at reducing signs of acute pain. 

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