When it comes to castration practices in the cattle industry, the deciding factor will forever be personal preference and what fits the operation best – elastrator (banding) versus surgical (knife-cut).

An online Progressive Cattleman poll revealed that 42.8 percent, the majority of Progressive Cattleman online respondents, prefer to use the elastrator method of castration.

Speed up your branding process

Many ranchers use the banding method, as opposed to surgical, because of the time it saves. Texas A&M University Extension specialist and animal scientist Rick Machen says it is common for producers to tag an ear and slip a band on bull calves right after they are born.

“The primary reason is: They think it’s less stressful on the calves,” Machen says. “Often times, the calf never even knew he was a bull.”

Shortly after a calf is born, southern Idaho rancher Spencer Bedke does exactly that: tags the ear and slips a band on. To avoid confrontation with the mother cow, Bedke grabs the calf and lays it in the truck bed to accomplish the post-birth ritual.


Banding calves

“Banding keeps me from having to create an open wound for those calves to try to heal up and deal with,” Bedke says. “It’s just a lot easier, and it also speeds up the branding process.”

During the hectic process of branding, castrating bull calves – whether its knife-cut or banding – consumes a lot of time. When the branding season arrives, Bedke runs his calves through a chute to brand them.

He doesn’t have to take the time to castrate nearly 120 head of calves; the tiring task then becomes less tiring.

“Personally, I think you’re creating less stress on the cattle, and anything that is less stress should equate to more pounds on the calf and an overall healthier calf,” Bedke says. “Banding just seems to be pretty efficient.”

The economic benefit

John Androlewicz, a 29-year-old who owns 50 cow-calf pairs in northeast Idaho, started out at age 20 doing what everyone else was doing – cutting their calves. He has since switched to banding.

“I thought, ‘Well, if they cut, and everyone else is doing it, I might as well do it,’” Androlewicz says. “But then I got more exposed to other guys and saw how they banded their calves.”

Androlewicz hauls his cattle in trucks to move them from winter to summer pasture. This allows him to brand his calves, slip a band on, load them in the truck and not worry about having any serious problems.

“You can throw them on a truck the next day or a few days later, and there are no sores or open wounds,” Androlewicz says. “That was my biggest advantage of banding versus cutting them.”

Androlewicz points out the economic benefit of banding. In his experience, Androlewicz has noticed banded calves act different than cut calves. Androlewicz has noticed that banded calves are generally up and about after the castration and happily nursing.

“By cutting, calves are down five to 10 days and losing 2 to 3 pounds a day,” Androlewicz says. “That adds up pretty quick when you’re talking about large numbers of cattle.”

Easier on you and the calf

Jim and Nancy Richey, an older couple who operate a cattle ranch in South Dakota, wait for the calves to get a little older before they castrate them.

“We can handle them better when they are bigger and can fit into a chute,” Nancy Richey says. “That’s generally when we band them.”

Nancy Richey mentions they have seen some surgical castrations where the calves have been cut badly. She likes that there is no blood coming from the bull or the man doing the job.

“I just feel better putting a band on them rather than cutting them anymore,” Jim Richey says. “It’s safer for me.”

Let them grow – then decide

Tom Hendrix, a cattle producer in Colorado, has surgical-castrated hundreds of his neighbor’s calves but prefers to wait and band his when they are yearlings.

Hendrix chooses to delay castrating on the 200-head cow-calf operation until he finds bull calves that are prime for A.I.

“I develop all my bull calves to see how well they grow,” Hendrix says. “I also get extra performance on the calves.”

By the time Hendrix gets around to castrating the yearlings, they are substantially heavier than a young calf, and Hendrix has found banding is the safest way to do it. After he chooses which bull calves to keep, Hendrix castrates the rest and sends the yearlings to market.

“It’s all up to your individual program and personal preference, though,” Hendrix says. “Everyone’s program is different.”

Best practice in the industry

The American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) recommends bull calves be castrated by 120 days old. The association recommends both the elastrator and surgical methods – and doesn’t suggest one over the other.

Dr. Robert Larson, a professor in the college of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University, says people band to avoid making the calf bleed. But even though there is less risk of bleeding, there is still the risk of infection when the band cuts into the first layer of skin.

“Any time you’re creating a wound, you have potential for tetanus, and it appears as a much greater risk with banding than knife-cut,” Larson says. “You’re still going to get some dead tissue where the organisms can invade.”

To prevent this, Larson says the best practice is to confirm both testicles are below the band, ensure it’s tight and give the calf a tetanus vaccine.

“From an ease of doing the procedure and minimal calf discomfort, the earlier the better,” Larson says.

Cattle ranchers across the nation are consistently producing cattle and achieving the same goal but are doing it with various equipment and practices. Larson says that when it comes to castration, there are people who support banding for animal welfare concerns and there are some people who oppose it for the same concerns.

Machen says it doesn’t matter how you do it, just as long as you get it done.

“It is without question the best management practice of the industry to castrate those bull calves that aren’t intended for reproduction,” Machen says.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Advocates for banding say the process creates less stress and pain for a calf than cut-castration. 

PHOTO 2: If a band cuts into the skin, it will pose a risk of infection just as it would for a knife-cut castration. So vets recommend a tetanus shot to accompany a banding. Staff photo.