Bovine castration

The AVMA recognizes that castration of cattle is important to reduce aggressive behavior, improve meat characteristics and quality grade, and increase animal and human safety. Castration procedures cause pain and discomfort and studies indicate that preoperative use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents and local anesthetics reduces pain and distress associated with castration. The veterinarian-of-record should always advise clients and advocate for the use of procedures and practices that reduce or eliminate pain and distress. These include low-stress handling techniques and the use of approved or AMDUCA-permissible clinically effective medications. The veterinarian-of-record should advise clients on optimal castration protocols for their herd and, in situations when the client will conduct the procedures themselves, train the client to properly complete the procedure. Veterinarians should ensure clients are informed about identification of acute and chronic pain behaviors and potential medical complications as well as the appropriate use of any drugs. Persons performing castration should ensure equipment is clean and in good working order, they are competent in conducting the procedure, and use methods and protocols that minimize pain and decrease post-procedure infection risk. All handling and restraint methods should seek to minimize stress and decrease the likelihood of injury.

  • Castration should be performed at the earliest age practicable, preferably prior to 3 months of age. Castration should not be delayed for the purpose of enhancing growth as there are no proven growth benefits associated with this practice.
  • Elastrator rubber banding techniques have been associated with increased chronic pain in older calves and should be discouraged in calves older than 2 months. If using this technique, application within the first week of life is recommended.
  • High tension-banding systems may be used with appropriate veterinary supervision and/or training in situations where surgical castration may predispose to postsurgical complications. Pain control should be utilized for high tension-banding systems as well.
  • There are a number of acceptable castration techniques as well as numerous pain management protocols utilized within the cattle industry. The selected methods and protocols used should include consideration of relevant variables such as the animal's age, weight, temperament, skill level of the operator/technician, environmental conditions, available facilities, and human and animal safety.

The AVMA encourages further development and implementation of improved practical analgesic and anesthetic protocols for bovine castration as well as development of viable alternatives to surgical castration.

Related resources

Related policy

Bovine disbudding and dehorning


Welfare implications of dehorning and disbudding of cattle

Additional Resource

Extralabel drug use and AMDUCA FAQ