Warning, this is a somewhat squeemish post with details about castrating the calf. Don’t read it if that will bother you.
As soon as we found out that the cow had given birth to a bull calf my first thought was that we were going to have to figure out how to castrate him. I didn’t know anything about it whatsoever because I had spent the months since we got the cow learning how to care for a cow, how to milk, how to process milk, how to make dairy products, how to dry a cow off, and had most recently been researching all about birthing the calf and hadn’t yet gotten to that topic in my research. We didn’t even know at what age it should take place, and I knew there was a possibility that it might need to happen within the first few weeks, so that is why it was the first thing that came to mind.
I quickly went to work reading all sorts of books, articles, blogs, and discussing it with people with cow experience. We weighed the pros and cons of using a knife versus using a band. And we went round and round about what age to do it.
We finally decided that we were going to band him at 2 months of age. We chose this because it fit our situation best. The benefits for our situation were the fact that we were not able to do it with a knife ourselves and would therefore have to call out a vet. We live in an area where there are no cow vets for 45 miles (we literally own the only dairy cow in our entire town), and the road to get to us is not an easy one to travel, so it is very expensive to get a cow vet to drive to us. And since it seemed from my research that the risks are similar with either banding or the knife we decided it definitely made sense for us to go with banding. The banding equipment cost us about $17 and it included 100 bands (way more than we will ever need). The reason we decided on 2 months of age was because we learned that the risk of infection increases greatly after 6 months of age. A couple of people we talked to, including a vet, suggested that two months of age is a good time because the size of the testicles is optimal – not too small so that they could somehow slip one back up past the band, but not so big that it is too difficult to get the band on. Also, more tissue means a larger chance of infection. And lastly, at two months the calf is still pretty easy to wrangle to the ground. So two months seemed a good time.
Despite all our confidence in our decision on method and timing, we were really not looking forward to this part of the calf adventure. It made me squeemish every time I thought of it (and still does). I was completely unable to look at the poor little guy’s rear half during the entire three weeks. Thank goodness for a husband willing to check it daily and make sure the little guy was doing ok.
So the last week of December the calf turned two months old. The weekend we planned to do it I had three children and myself down with the flu and high fevers. There was no way I could go out with my husband to help while I was trying to take care of the sick children. He decided that instead of putting it off he would just do it with our 9-year-old son. He was fully confidant they could handle it without the extra hands and weight of another adult. I peeked out the window a few times in between taking care of the kids to watch the process.
It went SO smoothly and well. He closed Charlotte into the barn so she couldn’t cause trouble. He went over to Charlie and kind of grabbed all four legs and pulled them out from under him, causing him to fall to his side (he tried to break his fall as best as possible and it didn’t seem to be an issue). He tied the front two legs and the back leg that was on the top together like we have seen done at the rodeo (though he wasn’t fast like the rodeo guys – haha). This whole time Charlie didn’t make a peep, just looked at him like “this is interesting, what game are we playing?” Then, while my son sat on the upper half of the calf holding him still in case he tried to wiggle, and my husband straddled the lower half of him, he used the tool and put the band on. He made very sure that he had both testicles and then pulled the tool off. Done. Simple as that. The calf didn’t wiggle or bawl or anything (Charlotte was in the barn bawling like crazy wanting her baby back). He untied him and let him go. When he got up he let out one little call for his mama and then was walking kind of funny up the hill to the barn. We let Charlotte out and he nursed a bit. It was so easy and quick, the whole thing took less than 10 minutes.
My husband checked him regularly the first few days and then checked twice a day until it fell off. Within the first three hours the calf couldn’t feel it anymore (before that he didn’t want my husband touching it, but then it was clear he was totally numb). It got hot and a bit swollen. Then it got very cold and slowly shrank over the three weeks. By the end of the first week it was totally black. (YUCK!) At one point we had very cold temperatures and it froze (we were like, hmmm, well I guess that will help along the necrosis). And then one day it was just gone.
The three weeks seemed like forever to me. I just wanted it to be over. It wasn’t that he was in pain (that was just the first few hours), it was just annoying to have it dangling there looking so gross and I just wanted it over.
Definitely not our favorite part of farming, but tolerable, and thankfully it went so well, and we only have to do it every few years (and maybe not even that often if we get a heifer calf).