Livestock producers should have beef calves castrated within a few months of birth, rather than waiting for weaning, says W. Mark Hilton, clinical professor of food animal production medicine at Purdue University.
That's because early castration means less pain for the animal, improved health in the feedlot, a more tender carcass with more marbling, decreased stress on the calf and quicker rebreeding for cows nursing steer calves.
"There seems to be some controversy on when calves should be castrated, but the evidence shows that early castration is the better option," Hilton said.
Calves castrated at weaning, which typically happens when the animal is 6-7 months old, will lose weight after the procedure or gain significantly less weight than calves castrated early, he said.
"The supposed 'testosterone advantage' to leaving bulls as bulls during the suckling phase is proven to be false and castrating calves early is of tremendous benefit to the producer, the feeder, the consumer and our beef industry," Hilton said.
There is also a financial advantage to early castration.
Bull calves sell at a discount of $5-$15 per hundredweight compared to steer calves, or about $25 for a 500-pound animal.
Nearly all bull calves will be castrated at the feedlot, which could lead to decreased weight gain, increased sickness, increased mortality, reduced tenderness and reduced marbling, Hilton said.
For a short overview of other ways to prep calves for best performance in the feedlot, view Hilton's paper "Managing Your Beef Herd: Highlighting Key Determinants of Success in Preconditioning," available online.