When we were planning to have our second steer butchered, we started to look around for a young steer to replace him and keep the remaining steer company. We have learnt the hard way that one steer will not stay home and now always have at least two in the “herd” so they don’t get lonely. Unfortunately it was not a good time of year to find a cheap poddy calf, with most around $300, it wasn’t really worth us buying one to raise if they were that expensive. Finally someone answered my ad and told me he had a “Hereford cross steer”, just weaned, for $180. Perfect!
We turned up early one foggy Saturday morning to pick him up. After driving 30 min with the cattle crate on the back of the ute, and with no real alternative, there was little chance that we weren’t going to buy the little fella. When we saw him though, it was clear that he wasn’t a Hereford, or a steer! So we brought home our little Fresian bull and wondered what to do.
Little Rocket, the"Hereford cross" bull
We started doing some reading. First on the methods of making our little bull into a steer, and then whether we should even bother, as I started to wonder about the processes suggested and their relative levels of cruelty.
After considerable research on the topic, I concluded that we shouldn’t keep him as a bull. Although I found mixed assessment of the meat quality of bulls, it seems that bulls are more likely to suffer from excess adrenaline while waiting at an abattoir, which will taint the meat (i.e. dark cutting), however if the animal is not stressed prior to slaughter (e.g. a home kill) there is no significant difference in the taste. The main reason for our decision was that aggression in bulls can be a problem, with some examples on the net of dairy bulls that were hand-raised and became aggressive at 1-2 years old. As our little fella was most certainly of dairy heritage, and has horns, we decided that it would not be safe to keep him as bull.
With one decision made the next issue was which of the many options to use to make our little bull into a steer. There are three options that are most popular: surgical removal of the testicles, emasculation and rubber bands. Emasculation, using an ‘emasculatome’ is the process of crushing of the blood and nerve supply to make the testicle atrophy and become non-functional. The first two options require a certain about of skill and experience, which we didn’t have. Surgical removal requires no special equipment if the calf is young and can easily be rolled onto his side, for older calves a crush is required. A workmate offered to come over after work and "fix up" our little bull with his pocket knife, but it seemed a little cruel to me (besides I was worried about infection, its ok when you've got hundreds of them, but we only had one little calf, it would not have been good if he'd died from nutting). For both emasculation and elastic bands you need a special tool, ranging from $50-100. With emasculation, the testicles remain intact, so you never know if it actually worked, which is a little off-putting for the unskilled operator! After much deliberation (and by this stage he was too big to roll over anyway, which reduced our options) we finally bought ourselves a rubber banding tool.
example rubber banding tool
Fortunately the little fella was hand raised and VERY tame at this stage. He really liked his calf pellets, so one afternoon while he was tucking into a large pile of pellets we sneaked around behind him and applied a rubber band. Thus followed the most pampered and fussed over bull calf castration activity of all time. We checked him every day while he was eating, for the entire 7 weeks it took for the damn things to fall off! After 4 weeks we started to worry that he’d got an infection, and bought an antiseptic spray. The spray had a purple dye so you could see where you’d sprayed it and the poor thing had purple legs for the rest of the time. When they finally fell off we were overjoyed with relief (I'm sure Rocket was sick of all the attention too!).
That is the story of our successful nutting of a bull calf. If anyone has any other experiences and comments, please share! Footnote: several weeks later we found Rocket's balls on our front fence post. We assumed that a bird had picked them up and left them there. However, when I mentioned it to my neighbour we found out that her dog had brought the balls home one day and proudly presented them. My neighbour, not knowing that the object was, had picked them up and examined them, then taken a photo and put it on facebook. Eventually someone was able to identify them for her, and that's how they ended up on our fence post - plonked there in disgust!! When I stopped laughing, I was able to tell her that the moral of the story was that she shouldn't have let your dog stray onto our property as you never know what he'll find there! 2016 update: we have used the rubber bands on over 20 young bull calves over the last 5 years and have not had any trouble with this method. It is our preferred option as it easiest for us and seems to be relatively low stress for the calves too, as long as you get them young enough. We use our cattle yards and head bale to apply the bands at Cheslyn Rise, but on our small property we often have to use the crash-tackle method to get the calf on the ground and then tie his legs with rope to incapacitate him temporarily while we do the band - this is best done while the calf is too young to escape from a chase, or it can be quite difficult to get them on the ground!