How to reduce risks during castration?

10th Dec, 2019
Sahiwal and Boran Cows at Bullocks Farm in Isinya.PHOTO: WILBERFORCE OKWIRI

Although castration is a common and effective production practice, complications may arise from the procedure, including:

  1. infection,
  2. swelling,
  3. bleeding,
  4. discomfort, and
  5. pain.

These complications can be minimized when castration is done at the youngest age possible; when proper, clean techniques and well-maintained equipment are used; and when animals are adequately vaccinated.

Castration improves meat quality however it decreases daily gains and feeds conversion ratios compared to intact bulls.

How to manage pain?

Acute pain—All physical methods of castration cause pain. Animals exhibit pain responses during and after castration; these responses include struggling, kicking the hind legs, tail swishing, foot-stamping, head-turning, restlessness, stilted gait, reduced activity, increased recumbence, abnormal standing posture, reduced interest in dams and each other and reduced grazing and feed intake.

Chronic pain— Persistent wounds have been observed in 14-month-old bull calves castrated using emasculator bands; these wounds may produce chronic pain. Assessment of chronic pain has primarily been based on reduced weight gain and growth, but findings suggest that pain may persist for several weeks following castration.

On the basis of behavioral parameters and the presence of inflammation and sepsis, it appears that castration with rubber rings produce both acute and chronic pain, whereas application of the Burdizzo clamp and surgical castration produce less chronic pain.

Managing pain in cattle as quoted by states has become a public concern and a producer priority, particularly with the development and availability of pain medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

A farmer should consult your veterinarian on the best method of pain management.

All the above methods of castration are painful.

Surgical castration causes more intense pain that lasts for a few days, while banding castration causes a less intense but chronic pain that lasts for over a month. Producers should consult with their veterinarians on the best methods to manage pain during and after castration.

Which are the Surgical complications following castration?

Potential complications associated with castration include hemorrhage, excessive swelling or edema, infection, poor wound healing, and failure. The use of the Burdizzo clamp may be associated with a higher failure rate, most likely caused by operator error.

Hemorrhage—The risk of hemorrhage or excessive bleeding is greater after surgical castration. Surgical castration is associated with reportedly higher complications, including bleeding, swelling, infection, and death.

Disease—Castration-associated immunosuppression may increase the risks of local or systemic disease after the procedure. The use of rubber rings in calves older than six months may be associated with increased risks of tetanus or other infection.

Performance—Cattle may demonstrate reduced feed intake and average daily gain (ADG) for a period of time after castration. Consumers prefer beef from cattle that are castrated at an early age. Castrating beef calves immediately after transport may compound the stress experienced by the calves and lead to increased losses due to illness.

Physiologic stress—Castration is considered to be one of the most stressful experiences for livestock. Blood cortisol concentrations have been studied as indicators of physiologic stress in animals. Regardless of the means of castration, cortisol concentrations are increased following the procedure; however, onset, magnitude, and duration may vary with the procedure used. Surgical castration appears to produce the most substantial rise in plasma cortisol concentration.


Castration is considered to be a necessary management practice for cattle.

Although younger cattle exhibit less pain, stress, and distress in response to the procedure, all methods of castration induce pain and physiologic stress in animals of all ages.

Pain and physiologic stress resulting from castration should be minimized to provide for the overall welfare of the animal.

Although obstacles to immediate implementation exist, research results suggest that the application of local anesthesia and the administration of analgesics have the potential to minimize or eliminate pain and stress associated with castration.

The author is Dr. Paul R. N. Kang'ethe (BVM, UoN)

[email protected]

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