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Welfare outcomes for 3- and 6-month-old beef calves in a tropical environment castrated surgically or by applying rubber rings
- Petherick, J. Carol, Small, Alison H., Reid, David J., Colditz, Ian G., Ferguson, Drewe M.
- Applied animal behaviour science 2015 v.171 pp. 47-57
- animal behavior, beef cattle, body weight, calves, calving, castration, cortisol, haptoglobins, inflammation, liveweight gain, pain, rubber, tissue repair, tropics
- Castration of cattle using rubber rings is becoming increasingly popular due to the perceived ease of the procedure and greater operator safety when compared with surgical castration. Few comparative studies have investigated the effects of different castration methods and calf age on welfare outcomes, particularly in a tropical environment. Thirty Belmont Red (a tropically adapted breed), 3-month-old (liveweight 71–119kg) and 30, 6-month-old (liveweight 141–189kg) calves were assigned to a two age×three castration (surgical, ring and sham) treatment factorial study (Surg3, Surg6, Ring3, Ring6, Sham3 and Sham6, n=10 for each treatment group). Welfare outcomes were assessed post-castration using: behaviour for 2 weeks; blood parameters (cortisol and haptoglobin concentrations) to 4 weeks; wound healing to 5 weeks; and liveweights to 6 weeks. More Surg calves struggled during castration compared with Sham and Ring (P<0.05, 90±7% vs. 20±9% and 24±10%) and performed more struggles (1.9±0.2, 1.1±0.3 and 1.1±0.3 for Surg, Sham and Ring, respectively), suggesting that surgical castration caused most pain during performance of the procedure. A significant (P<0.05) time×castration method×age interaction for plasma cortisol revealed that concentrations decreased most rapidly in Sham; the Ring6 calves failed to show reduced cortisol concentrations at 2h post-castration, unlike other treatment groups. By 7h post-castration, all treatment groups had similar concentrations. A significant (P<0.01) interaction between time and castration method showed that haptoglobin concentrations increased slightly to 0.89 and 0.84mg/mL for Surg and Ring, respectively over the first 3 days post-castration. Concentrations for Surg then decreased to levels similar to Sham by day 21 and, although concentrations for Ring decreased on day 7 to 0.76mg/mL, they increased significantly on day 14 to 0.97mg/mL before reducing to concentrations similar to the other groups (0.66mg/mL) by day 21. Significantly (P<0.05) more of the wounds of the 3-month compared with the 6-month calves scored as ‘healed’ at day 7 (74% vs. 39%), while more (P=0.062) of the Surg than Ring scored as ‘healed’ at day 21 (60% vs. 29%). At day 14 there were significantly (P<0.05) fewer healed wounds in Ring6 compared with other treatment groups (13% vs. 40–60%). Liveweight gain was significantly (P<0.05) greater in 3-month (0.53kg/day) than in 6-month calves (0.44kg/day) and in Sham calves (P<0.001, 0.54kg/day), than in Ring (0.44kg/day) and Surg (0.48kg/day) calves. Overall, welfare outcomes were slightly better for Surg than Ring calves due to reduced inflammation and faster wound healing, with little difference between age groups.