Branding day really is a big day for some of these calves, especially the bulls. The poor fellas especially have a big change... I kinda feel bad for them- glad I'm not destined to be a steer.
You might not think it, but castrating is an important part of our operation of producing the best beef possible. How are a pair of cahonees related to a yummy hamburger? I'm glad you asked! I'll tell you!
Testosterone is produced in the testes (duh, I know... have to start somewhere). And although testosterone helps calves grow fast, this is at the cost of a lot of energy. I don 't just mean a lot of energy to help them grow (we are totally for growing) but I mean a lot of energy to first develop testes and then produce the testosterone. In a castrated calf, more energy is put towards more marbling fat- the fat that gives meat its flavor and tenderness.
Besides castrating to make a better product, we also castrate for management sake. With testosterone comes aggression (again, duh... I know...) and aggressive cattle make for more work. On a ranch there is ALWAYS something to be done and anything we can do to ease our load is so worth it. Its also make sure that as the calves develop that they don't get overly zealous in starting the next generation of calves- we don't want babies pregnant with babies!
We castrate in two ways. Actually "we" only castrate in one way, then those boys do another... The first is using an elastrator. I mentioned this when we talked about tagging. There is a stretchy ring that we stretch around the testes that will eventually cut them off. This works best for young calves that haven't developed as much. The other method is surgically cutting them- a little more intense (I'm not a wimp, I promise...).
Castrating is stressful for a calf, and stressful times can cause calves to get sick or lose weight. They will bounce back a lot better when they are younger and pick up on that weight gain faster. There have been studies that found that in the end, a calf that is castrated younger will be heavier when it is harvested versus a calf that was castrated at weaning time. Who knew!
Maybe this is more than what you wanted to know, but its a few fun facts about ranch life and what we do to make the best product we can!