Earlier Castration Reduces Stress
The kindest cut may be the one made at a young age, when it comes to
castrating beef cattle.
Scientists in the Agricultural Research
Service Livestock Behavior Research Unit at West Lafayette, Indiana, found
calves castrated shortly after birth suffered less stress and recovered faster
than those castrated around weaning time.
Farmers remove their calves' testicles to reduce aggressiveness in male
animals as they mature. It may also improve the taste and texture of beef, says
Julie Morrow-Tesch, an ARS animal physiologist/ethologist who heads the
research unit. Meat from uncastrated cattle can be tougher and may carry an
The West Lafayette lab studies livestock behavior in order to gauge the
stress level in animals.
"It's important to understand which management practices can be
combined or should be performed independently to reduce stress in
livestock,"says Morrow-Tesch. "By integrating castration prior to
weaning, stress levels may be lower for calves at weaning, thereby improving
Morrow-Tesch used two different methods of castration --surgical and banding
--on three separate groups of Angus, Simmental, and crossbred calves: Two
groups were castrated and one was not. In banding, a tight rubber band around
the animal's scrotum cuts off the blood supply to the testicles. After several
days, the scrotum drops off. Cattle producers prefer this method because it's
less expensive and not as labor-intensive as surgically removing the testicles.
Calves are usually weaned when they're 36 weeks old. The West Lafayette
researchers castrated one group of animals at 36 weeks and the other at 33,
which was 3 weeks before weaning. They measured the calves' stress level by
checking blood levels of haptaglobin, a protein the liver makes when an animal
They found that haptaglobin levels were higher in calves castrated at 36
weeks than those castrated at 33 weeks or at birth --indicating a higher level
of stress for the older animals. Surgically castrated calves also showed higher
levels of haptaglobin, meaning surgical castration was more stressful than
Lyons-Johnson, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
Julie Morrow-Tesch is in
the USDA-ARS Livestock Behavior
Research Unit, Poultry Science Bldg., Room 218, Purdue University, West
Lafayette, IN 47907; telephone (765) 494-8022, fax (765) 496-1993.
"Earlier Castration Reduces Stress" was published in the
August 1998 issue of Agricultural Research magazine. Click here to see this
issue's table of contents.