Kansas State University Extension Livestock Specialist Karl Harborth

The cattleman’s lament may very well be the long, long list of factors that are just plain out of his control.

There are still plenty of things, however, that beef producers can do to impact profitability and Kansas State University Extension Livestock Specialist Karl Harborth discussed one of them at last week’s KOMA Beef Cattle Conference in Oswego, Kan.

“If you’re not castrating your calves, you’re leaving money on the table,” the animal scientist told producers.

While castration may seem to be commonplace, a surprising number of bulls run in and out of sale rings—and virtually all of them would be worth more had they been castrated.

Harborth cited K-State data indicating that, even at light weights, intact male calves brought $2.75/cwt. less with the price advantage of castration increasing along with weights.

“The later an animal is castrated, the larger the negative impact on weight gain for a month or so after the procedure,” Harborth noted.

He said research indicates that a 550-lb. steer has a 35-lb. gain advantage over a bull of the same class. Noting research conducted by former K-State animal scientist Frank Brazle, Harborth said that when gain, increased medication and death loss are considered, steers have a $52.18/head value advantage over bulls at a weight of 550 pounds.

An Oklahoma State University study revealed a 24-lb. edge at weaning for banded steers versus intact bull calves.

Those bull calves will be castrated at some point prior to slaughter, Harborth pointed out, and the later that happens the greater the impact on value.

Bulls castrated on arrival at feed yards have increased medicine cost per animal, higher sickness and death rates and lower performance, all of which add up to buyers’ unwillingness to pay as much for bull calves.

In addition to improved animal health and performance, steers also generally have higher carcass quality compared to bulls and, Harborth said, the ease of handling and safety advantage of steers over bulls is not to be taken lightly, either.

“It’s pretty clear that castrating calves at a young age is best for every segment of the industry,” Harborth concluded. “Calves castrated early will perform as well or better than male siblings left intact and, most importantly, they’ll be worth more money.”

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