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A How-to (or How-Not-to) Guide to Herdsmanship

(Published Spring 2014)


Frequently Asked Questions, Part II


Here are a few more questions regarding herd  anagement

that seem to recur in discussions with beginners and pros alike, and are occasionally the source of vociferousness at our Friday afternoon safety meetings.


1. What is the preferred method for castrating bulls?


Rings or scalpel?


Rubber bands or rings are an acceptable method assuming: you apply the rings before the calf is 7 days old, you include both (2) testicles inside the ring, and you seat the ring at the very top of the neck of the scrotum. I can’t estimate how many stockyard calves I’ve bought that were castrated (or semi-neutered) with rings but still had a testicle in their underbelly. The inability to count to two may be a local phenomenon but I kind of doubt it. When one testicle is left behind by a ring it makes for a tricky little job to finish. However, when properly applied rings work very well.


On the downside you have to catch the calf early, which may include fighting off his mama while you do the work. Come to think of it, fighting off mama may be a contributing factor to the counting problem.


We tend to think of the bloodless rings as a more humane treatment, but I disagree. Most calves develop a low-grade infection around the ring site that may last 30 -60 days, which would be pretty uncomfortable. The calf will not perform as well during that time, and some of those infections get nasty and complicated to cure.


The surgical method seems to me the most humane, strange as that may sound, and the most effective. remove

the bottom 40% of the scrotum and firmly pull each testicle out with your hand. I don’t think the scrotum is as sensitive as we (males) imagine, and the job is over with very quickly. I prefer to wash the area with disinfectant before making the incision, then apply mild disinfectant on completion. Healing will be fast if you turn the calf out on clean pasture with his mama, who will lick his wound thoroughly until healing starts. This procedure is a minor hiccup in a calf’s life.



2. What’s the best method for dehorning?


Buy a polled bull. Keep polled cows.


I should leave it at that. Dehorning is barbaric, cruel and disgusting. I am ashamed to say I’ve dehorned hundreds of cattle and I detest it.


Above all, don’t use rubber bands for dehorning. I’ll share that sad story with you another time, when I get over it a little bit. My daughter is still amazed and embarrassed that I did it, and it’s been 3-4 years now.


Methods of dehorning are many, and they’re all pretty bad. If you have to do it, and I still do, I think the best method is to use a sharp Barnes type dehorning tool when the horn is 2-3 inches long. Give the calf a shot of anesthetic at the base of each horn, give it time to take effect, then work quickly and get the calf out of the chute as soon as possible.


Apologize to the calf as you let him go and ask for forgiveness.


3. What vaccinations should be given, and when?


Well, I think we’re all probably a little over-sold on vaccines.


All we’re using now is an 8-way Clostridial and a 10-way KV for respiratory, BVD, and Lepto. The problem is these vaccines are a little inconvenient and a little expensive. They typically require a booster in 2-4 weeks and an annual booster, which can add up to a lot of trips through the chute, which is bad for production. If you use the Clostridial vaccine that requires only one shot you can expect 25% or more of the recipients to develop “transient” swelling at the injection site. In my experience those knots tend to last a long time and some never go away.


A few years ago at a couple of remote locations with marginal or nonexistent facilities we started the practice of not doing anything at all to calves until it was time to wean them and transport them to the main farm. We simply trap the cattle in a portable corral, sort off the calves and take them to Ellett, where we weigh, vaccinate, castrate, dehorn, and ear tag them. If the calves were all staying in our beef program we wouldn’t even vaccinate, but we do sell some to other grassfed producers and the extra protection is probably worth the cost. Typically we keep them in a small lot for 3-4 days then start rotating them on pasture. It is a very low input management method and the results have been very good. I can’t remember having a sick calf using this system.


One advantage of this system is the additional gain due to testosterone on the male calves. Another is we have no facilities investment on some of the leases, plus the herds were not disrupted by multiple “working days.” Please be mindful that I’m not a veterinarian nor am I any sort of an authority on these subjects; I’m just sharing some of the methods that seem to work on our lowinput outfit.


                                                           - Guille Yearwood -

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