Today we have the farm vet out to look at the calves, dehorn if necessary and castrate those bull calves destined to become family steers.
I am often asked why we choose not to disbud and castrate calves ourselves, so this is a good opportunity to explain our practices.
Simply put, a badly dehorned/disbudded calf is both unattractive and a concern. They often develop ‘ scurs’ –remaining bits of horn that are unsightly and often grow in odd ways that impair or threaten the adult bovine and require regular trimmings, which must be done by a vet anyhow.
Disbudding / Dehorning
I have a badly dehorned cow whose scurs grow twisted and often threaten to grow right into her eye socket. She has to be trimmed annually at her check ups and pregnancy checks. This requires light sedation due to the proximity to her eye, we don’t want to put her eye out !
We have a few others who have scurs that pose no substantial threat which are just trimmed when they develop an issue such as overgrowth, peeling or severe cracks. This is a problem with scurs as , like fingernails on a human, scurs continue to grow and because they are damaged at the root by bad dehorn attempts, they do not grow as hard or as properly and can develop deep splits or cracks that are uncomfortable and even dangerous for the cow.
A vet performed disbudding is clean and thorough, if the vet knows what she is doing and performs the procedure often. The horn is often trimmed back and then the root cauterized. Trimming is not necessary if you do the disbudding in the first few weeks as is our habit. The horn buds are slight and soft at that stage and can be easily removed with a disbudding tool or cauterization. We do authorize the vet to use light sedation and pain meds at the time of the procedure to minimize stress and discomfort to the calf.
Castration is typically accomplished with a practice called ‘ banding’ where a very tight and thick rubber band is applied to the testicles with a tool called an ‘ elastrator’.
It is very effective in cutting circulation to the testicles , which eventually just fall off.
We do not practice this method, preferring veterinary surgical castration for two reasons , the climate here is typically hot and sub tropical, which means we deal with wet , humid, unusually warm weather year round. This encourages and promotes issues that threaten the health of a calf who is banded, risking fly strike, infection of all manner of bacterium and just general discomfort. Surgical removal is fast and efficient. A small cut is made with a scalpel , the testicles are pulled through the cut and removed. The wound is glued and sprayed with a aluminum sealant and it is over. We don’t have to watch for infection as the tissue dies back and wait with baited breath for the testicles to dry and fall off. It’s done. Quick and clean.
Banding should be done shortly after the birth of a bull. It is widely believed that the earlier the better for all sorts of reasons such as lessened discomfort and lesser chance of infection. Tetanus is among common infections related to banding and the older and tougher a calf hide gets, the longer it takes for bacding to be complete and the greater the opportunity for infection as the layers of flesh die off.
This is another aspect we appreciate about surgical castration; it affords us the opportunity to safely wait as long as we like to watch a bull calf grow out if we think he may be desirable as a herd sire in the future. I have had them castrated as early as 48 hours old and up to 8 months old with no discernible differences in their recovery or comfort levels.