Steers: More Profit and Better Beef

— Written By Jonathan Black and last updated by Dawn Stone

 Beef cattle have been castrated for many years all throughout the United States, but why castrate? It requires more work, and if not taken care of early, it requires a handling facility for the calf producer. But, there are many good reasons to castrate bull calves.

The main reason to castrate is to eliminate the ability of the animal to breed with the animals they are with. Cow-calf producers don’t want their replacement heifers bred early, or to be bred by an inferior bull. Being bred too early can cause many different problems, one being birthing complications. This can lead to the heifer dying or an increased vet cost for having the calf pulled because the heifer was too small to have the calf. Another reason is cow-calf producers spend a lot of money on good quality bulls. They need these bulls to breed heifers in order to have the best possible genetics and not to be bred my some random bull in the pasture. Other producers, like ones that have stocker cattle or feedlots, don’t want the animals spending their time trying to breed. They want them to eat and grow at the fastest possible rate. Time spent on breeding behavior limits their feed intake and wastes energy that could be used for growth.

Another reason to castrate is that it gives better meat quality at slaughter. Animals that have been steered have a better taste, texture and fat composition. Castrating lowers the level of testosterone. This leads to higher grades of beef, consistent marbling and tenderness. Also, when done early, it decreases the muscle pH. This decreases the number of  “dark cutters.”  Dark cutters are meat that has a darker color at slaughter due to a release of glycogen.

It is well known that intact males are more aggressive than castrated males. This is due, once again, to higher levels of testosterone. Bulls can show aggression to other cows and to people. This can cause injury to the animals, such as broken bones or other injuries. It also makes them hard to work and this is where it can become dangerous for people. No one in the cattle industry wants aggressive animals and if there is any way to prevent this problem, producers will do anything they can to help.

The earlier castration takes place, the better. It is better for the animal and better for the producer. It is easier on the animal because it is still with its mother and can cope and heal better. For producers, it is much easier to catch them within the first few days, and if done correctly, may not require a handling facility. The meat also will be better the earlier that it is done in the animals’ life.

Another thing to consider is that unless it is a bull that is going to be used for breeding, it is going to be castrated anyway. If you take a bull to the sale barn you will not get as much per pound as you would get for a steer. This is because the new owner is going to have to castrate that bull. This is added cost to them for their time and it is much more difficult to do the older the animal is. Also, due to the stress, the animal will not grow as well for several weeks after this is done. Therefore, the steers get off to a better start and castration sets the bull behind and puts more cost on the new owner because he still has to feed it. This is why steers sell for more money at sales than bulls of the same weight.

Unless you are planning to sell your bulls to be breeder bulls, it is better to go ahead and castrate them, because, more than likely, at some point they will be castrated. It is better for the animal and the producers from top to bottom. Castration has been used for many years and is a very effective way to handle many problems that bulls cause. It is highly recommended that you castrate your bull calves because in the end you will get more money. If not, at some point it is going to be done and you will pay for it either way.

Here at Cooperative Extension, we strive to help and educate the public in whatever way we can. If you have a question about any of the information discussed in todays article or any other question related to agriculture, family health, or education, please feel free to contact us at 336.318.6000 or in person at 112 West Walker Avenue here in Asheboro.

by Cody Wright
NCSU Student Intern N.C. Cooperative Extension