Last year, Team Sheep focused their attention on how tailing and castrating lambs affects the animals involved; and looked at scenarios where the procedure had been improved or avoided. The meetings definitely changed my attitude, and I got to wondering why we don’t all take the same approach with calves. It’s not uncommon to see calves ‘knocked back a bit’ after castration, so what can we do to minimize the discomfort?
The big answer is PAIN MANAGEMENT. If the calf feels less pain, the effect of castration (for example, on feed intakes and growth rate) are reduced.
The first consideration is: do you really need to castrate this animal? If yes, then our preferred method is ring castration when the calf is between 24 hrs and 7 days old. It has been repeatedly shown that ring castrations (i.e. application of a rubber ring to remove the testicular blood supply) is less painful than both surgical and Burdizzo methods. Currently, it is not a Red Tractor requirement to use pain relief or local anaesthetic during ring castration, however, we still strongly recommend doing so. Looking ahead, it is likely this will become a requirement, as the use of local anaesthetic in calves has been shown to significantly reduce discomfort. In sheep, the benefits are such that there is a now a device available which rings and numbs the area all in one motion. I encourage you all to reflect on your ring castration procedure and consider whether there is anything you could do to improve it (for example, providing Metacam at the time of castration for longer lasting pain relief). There are many options out there, so discuss with your vet the ones that will work best for your farm.
As mentioned before, the act of ring castrating a calf can legally ONLY be done in animals less than a week old, before the blood supply to the testicles becomes more significant. So, what can be done to reduce the discomfort in older calves that require castration by other methods?
The Red Tractor rules have recently changed. All methods of castration (apart from ringing) now require pain relief. Interestingly, the use of Burdizzos has been shown to be more painful than surgical castration and is not a method we recommend. With older calves, it is recommended to stick to surgical castrations by your vet.
Before surgical castration, it is common for vets to administer Metacam as the pain relief of choice. It lasts for several days and helps reduce the swelling and sensitivity the animal may feel. There are other ways to reduce pain, too. Aside from the swelling that occurs post-surgery, infection also causes discomfort. Reducing the risk of infection will reduce the risk of high levels of pain. Maintaining clean environments and castrating calves at a younger age will help achieve this.
So, in summary, it’s all about reducing pain! To put it into perspective, I always tell farmers to imagine if the same thing was to be done to you… you would certainly question it if you were not allowed a hefty dose of paracetamol for the next few days…
If you think your methods could be altered and would like to discuss it further, please get in touch with Team Beef.
Imogen Rogers – Synergy Farm Health, Veterinary Surgeon BVetMed PGDip MRCVS