Castration of Cattle, Sheep, and Goats – Position Statement

July 30, 2012


The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) recommends that when castration of cattle, sheep, or goats is required, it should be performed at the youngest age possible with the use of appropriate analgesia, and that the technique used is appropriate for the age of the animal.


  1. The CVMA encourages development and implementation of practical analgesic and anaesthetic protocols for ruminant castration that treat acute and long-term pain and distress associated with this procedure.
  2. Castration of cattle, sheep, and goats is a routine part of livestock husbandry and is a method of avoiding unwanted sexual behaviour and pregnancies in cows, ewes and does and reduces aggression towards humans and other animals. Castrated males produce meat with a different colour, fat distribution, and texture that is more acceptable to consumers. Castrated cattle are less susceptible than intact bulls to stress at slaughter and have less “dark cutting” of meat (1-3).
  3. Castration is performed using a variety of techniques, including surgical removal of the testicles or techniques resulting in testicular necrosis (e.g., rubber rings, bands, and Burdizzo). These methods are typically conducted without anaesthesia or analgesia and induce significant pain responses depending on the method used and age of the animal (4,5). Research has demonstrated castration of calves, lambs, and kids elicits acute and chronic pain (6,7).
  4. Age of the animal at the time of castration is a primary determinant of extent of tissue injury, inflammation, and associated pain. Ruminants should be castrated at the earliest age possible, preferably when they are handled for the first time, after one day of age (8). Rubber ring castration appears to cause minimal discomfort in calves and lambs less than 10 days old (6-8).
  5. Regardless of the castration technique chosen and the age of the patient, all ruminants benefit from the use of systemic analgesia (e.g., a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug – NSAID), and/or a local anesthetic (9,10).
  6. Negative welfare impacts of castration at the time of weaning of extensively reared beef cattle can be minimized by the use of an epidural local anaesthetic and the use of systemic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (11,12). While local and epidural analgesia will improve the welfare of the animal during castration, pain mitigation following the procedure is also needed to prevent unnecessary animal suffering (13).
  7. Castration should only be performed by competent personnel using proper, well-maintained equipment and accepted techniques.


  1. Field RA. Effect of castration on meat quality and quantity J An Sci 1971;32:849-858.
  2. Seideman SC, Cross HR, Oltjen RR, Schanbacher BD. Utilization of the intact male for red meat production; A review. J An Sci 1982;55:826-839.
  3. Tarrant PV. The occurrence, cause and economic consequences of dark cutting in beef – a survey of current information. In: Hood DE, Tarrant PV, eds. Current Topics in Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science Volume10. The Hauge: Martinus Nijhoff;1981:3-35.
  4. Bretschneider G. Effects of age and method of castration on performance and stress response of beef male cattle: A review. Lstk Prod Sci 2005;97:89-100.
  5. Hewson CJ, Dohoo IR, Lemke KA, Barkema HW. Canadian veterinarians’ use of analgesics in cattle, pigs, and horses in 2004 and 2005. Can Vet J 2007;48:155-164.
  6. Cotezee JF, Lubbers BV, Toerber SE, et al. Plasma concentrations of substance P and cortisol in beef calves after castration or simulated castration. Am J Vet Res 2008;69:751-762.
  7. Molony V, Kent JE, Robertson IS. Assessment of acute and chronic pain after different methods of castration in calves. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1995;46:33-48.
  8. Robertson IS. Effect of different methods of castration on behaviour and plasma cortisol in calves of three ages. Res Vet Sci 1994;56:8-17.
  9. Stafford KS, Mellor DJ. The welfare significance of the castration of cattle: A review. New Zeal Vet J 2005;53:271-278.
  10. Stafford KJ, Mellor DJ, Todd SE, Bruce RA, Ward RN. Effects of local anesthesia plus a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug on the acute response of calves to five different methods of castration. Res Vet Sci 2002;73:61-70.
  11. Currah JM, Hendrick SH, Stooky JM. The behavioural assessment of alleviation of pain associated with castration in beef calves treated with flunixin meglumine and caudal lidocaine epidural anaesthesia with epinephrine. Can Vet J 2009;50:375-382.
  12. Stilwell G, Lima MS, Broom DM. Effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on long term pain in calves castrated by the use of an external clamping technique following epidural anesthesia. Am J Vet Res 2008;69:744-750.
  13. Coatzee JF. A review of pain assessment techniques and pharmacological approaches to pain relief after bovine castration:  Practical implications for cattle production within the United States. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2011;135:192-213.

(Adopted July 2012)