Castration is an act of making a male animal sexually inactive or non reproductive. It can be surgical and non-surgical. While this process is considered critical for management of animal breeding, it is also highly controversial because of pain and health risks associated with it.
Farm animals reserved for fattening and those not needed for mating are usually castrated. As a result, the farmers achieve a better-quality and more productive offspring. Today’s challenge is for governments and breeding specialists to make this process as painful and ethical as possible.
What are the different types of castration?
Common physical methods of castration include surgical removal of the testes, or stopping the blood flow to the testes by applying an elastrator band or using a Burdizzo tool. North American researchers Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein and Ed Pajor found that banding at two months caused less acute pain than surgical castration, however banding at four months caused more chronic pain.
A Burdizzo is a clamp that crushes the testicular cord through the scrotal skin, which disrupts the blood supply to the testes. As a result, the testes die turning the animal sterile, but the scrotum remains intact. Compared to surgical castration, this method takes longer and has a failure rate of up to 35%, sotThis technique is becoming less common in the cattle industry.
According to a study, published in veterinary medicine journal, non-surgical sterilization technique in animals is an ancient practice and dates back to 7000 BC.
“An ideal method of castration should cause permanent block to spermatogenesis and inhibit androgenetic enzymes with low-cost treatment and doesn’t affect the welfare of the animal. Even if operative methods are the main methods of castration, hormonal castration and chemical castration are also an alternative and equivalent method of sterilization”, say the authors of the research.
Over the past years, non-surgical sterilization has found application in many animals, including male dogs, cats, lab animals such as monkeys, hamsters and rabbits, but also cattle such as goats or bulls. Chemical castration is often performed with calcium chloride, lactic acid, sodium chloride, chlorhexidine, formalin, zinc tannate, zinc gluconate, glycerol, glucose, ethanol and silver nitrate.
Pharmacological injections and implants and immunological techniques are used to inoculate the animal against its own sexual hormones. Injected into the animal’s testicles, these components decrease testosterone levels and sperm production and can lead to testicular atrophy. All methods of castration cause pain and distress, which can be minimized by castrating as early as possible, sometimes in the first week of life of the animal.
Advantages of castration in farm animals
Some of the benefits of castration are described in the specialized Livestocking blog. By castrating males, producers prevent inbreeding, mating of closely related animals together, as inbreeding often leads to genetic defects. Castration also prevents unplanned pregnancies and mating of young females before they attain good body weight, size and age for pregnancy and parturition (giving birth).
As castrated animals demonstrate less aggression, it assures the safety of humans and other animals. Castrated bull, ram, buck or boar gains weight faster and it also improves the taste of their meat.
Struggle to reduce risks for animals
Despite it being a common practice, castration is associated with trauma and various risks for the animal, so in many countries it is subject to animal protection laws.
For example, according to Canada’s Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), castration must be performed when the animal is “as young as possible, ideally soon after birth”.
Canadian law also forbids castration of bulls older than six months without pain mitigation. Castration is a common practice, however there may be risks, including pain, swelling, bleeding, and infection. Thus it must be performed by an experienced person using proper, clean, well-maintained equipment and accepted techniques prior to weaning and when possible, avoiding castrating during fly and insect season.
According to BCRC, castration, particularly using surgical methods, is commonly performed when calves are 3-6 weeks of age, often at the same time as other common procedures such as vaccination and branding. However, recent research shows that acute pain increases when calves are branded and castrated simultaneously.
All methods of castration are painful. While surgical castration causes more intense pain that lasts for a few days, banding causes a less intense but chronic pain that lasts for over a month. Today managing pain in cattle is a major public concern, so many regulatory bodies around the world insist on using pain medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Medication and Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) can speed up the recovery process and help relieve pain for an animal, be it a house pet or cattle. Laser therapy for wounds caused by castration is effective right after the acute inflammatory stage is gone two or three days past the operation. It has a therapeutic and preventive effect on living organisms. The procedure is performed with safe, painless, non‐drug, low‐energy, environmentally‐friendly electromagnetic radiation. In order to achieve desired effects and speed up post-castration recovery, RANKEL Smart Vet uses simultaneous pulsed infrared laser radiation, pulsed visible red light, pulsed visible blue light and the continuous magnetic field.