I finally made my decisions about Opie, my bull calf. Difficult weather and then his cold had kept me from either burning his horns or castrating him at a few days old as I normally would have. As the days dragged by I was aware my window of opportunity was closing. Of course, both operations could be done later by the vet under general anesthesia, but I don’t have the money for that and in this case I question the value.
Due to the difficulty of getting a spot on the slaughterhouse schedule, Opie’s date with destiny was made January 2, the first day the schedule was open for reservations — which happened to be two days before he was born. So I already know he will be leaving in early November, when he is ten months old. At that age he will still be “baby beef.” Probably about 500 pounds on the hoof. This is far from ideal in terms of a beef animal but my costs will have been almost nothing.
Thus my decisions about his horns and his testicles, two procedures that would cause Opie discomfort, had to be made against the background of knowing he would not live to be a very large bull.
Male cattle raised for beef are almost always steered (castrated). Removing their testicles diverts their thoughts from fighting each other for dominance and exhausting themselves chasing girls, concentrating their thoughts instead on eating. You can see why this would be advantageous. On the other hand, removing the testicles also hurts and slows the calves’ growth. To get around this, commercial steers are also routinely implanted with hormones. Yep; cut ’em off between the legs and then implant ’em behind the ear.
Meanwhile, today Herefords and Angus cattle are bred to be polled (naturally hornless).
I decided to leave Opie his testicles. Though he won’t be breeding my girls, I don’t see a compelling reason to cause him unnecessary pain. A 500-lb bullock could certainly hurt me, but at ten months it shouldn’t be a pressing thought in his mind.
However, I decided to burn his horns. Though I discourage them strongly, usually with a swinging bucket, my calves always toss their heads at me in play. Even a two-inch adolescent horn, if it caught me, would hurt considerably.
On Wednesday, after Opie had nursed until his belly was full, I shaved the top of his head and applied Dr. Naylor’s Dehorning Paste to his horn buds. I’ve never used the paste on a calf as old as a month; the instructions recommend doing the job at under one week. It’s likely the job will not be perfect. I’ll find out when I take off his duct-tape helmet tomorrow. However I will have done due diligence for safety, and I can cross another chore off the list.
Opie himself had a couple of uncomfortable hours. However by afternoon chores he was entertaining himself bashing water buckets (such a satisfying jounce and clatter!) while I mucked stalls.