Feeling Better About Castration

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

When Canada’s 2013 Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle was being developed, some participants felt it should require pain control for castration at all ages, like the dairy code. The producers and researchers on the beef Code committee were confident that pain control was beneficial for feedlot bulls and dairy calves but were concerned that there was no research showing whether nursing beef calves and individually-housed dairy calves respond to castration or pain relief the same way.

In the end, the 2013 beef Code required that castration be performed by an experienced person using proper, clean, well-maintained equipment and accepted techniques. Producers are expected to seek guidance from their veterinarian on the optimum method and timing of castration, as well as the availability and advisability of pain control drugs for castrating beef cattle. Calves must be castrated as young as practically possible, and pain control is required when castrating bulls older than six months of age. Continue reading

Pain, Pain, Go Away



Beef producers are busy in the spring and summer months processing cattle, performing common procedures such as castration and dehorning. Producers may also brand their cattle as a form of identification. These practices are commonplace on beef farms across Canada, and in many cases are necessary for the long-term health and welfare of the animals, however they cause pain. Reports show that producers and veterinarians who incorporate pain control measures during painful procedures often describe ease of use and potential improved gains in their herds.

Pain control is becoming a priority among producers and scientists as anesthetics and analgesics, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are more readily available.

How can producers mitigate pain in beef cattle effectively? Are there practical ways to manage pain in real life conditions? What is a Continue reading

How Castration Method and Age Affect Pain in Young Calves

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.



Canada’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle requires that castration be performed by an experienced person who uses proper, clean, well-maintained equipment and accepted techniques. A producer is expected to seek guidance from their veterinarian on the optimum method and timing of castration, as well as the availability and advisability of pain control drugs for castrating beef cattle. Calves must be castrated as young as practically possible, and pain control is required when castrating bulls older than six months of age.

The requirement to use pain control in older calves was based on research demonstrating its effectiveness in feedlot bulls. A lot of information was also available regarding the use of pain drugs in baby dairy calves, but the beef producers and researchers on the Code committee felt that the vast differences in genetics, herd dynamics and familiarity with people meant that nursing beef calves may respond differently to castration than individually-housed dairy calves that had been weaned at birth. A research project funded by the Beef Science Cluster is helping to determine when pain control is beneficial in beef calves. As a first step, students working with Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein (AAFC Lethbridge) and Ed Pajor (University of Calgary) examined how Continue reading

Measuring and mitigating pain during castration


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Public concern regarding the pain associated with castration, dehorning and branding of beef cattle is increasing. Past research has focused on individually housed dairy calves, or feedlot cattle. There is a lack of information regarding the influence of age and pain medication on preweaning beef calves in a herd environment.

Research currently underway and funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster is evaluating the relative impacts of age, technique, and pain medication when preweaning beef calves are castrated at the same time as branding or as a separate procedure.  This work will Continue reading

Pain Mitigation



Consumer pressure to avoid painful practices on cattle when possible, and to reduce pain when castration, dehorning, or branding are necessary, is building. The new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle also makes strong statements about pain control.

The knowledge of pain in livestock has advanced steadily over the past 22 years. Behavioural and physiological indicators of pain have been identified, and researchers’ ability to measure animal responses associated to painful procedures have improved. Research has developed new pain control drugs that are registered for use in cattle in Canada, and knowledge is building on the appropriate dosage, routes of administration and synergy between anesthetics and analgesics.

Despite a considerable amount of research, cattle’s experience with pain is… Continue reading

Do it Early, Do it Right

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted with permission.



Canada’s new voluntary Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle was released on September 6. The code (available at www.nfacc.ca) lays out guidelines pertaining to everyday beef cattle production practices. Like the 1991 version, the new code includes both should-do’s (recommendations) and must-do’s (requirements).The code was developed with input from cattle producers, industry stakeholders, veterinarians, researchers, government agencies, and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. A notable change in the new code relates to pain management when castrating and dehorning. This reflects two decades of change in society and the tremendous amount of research into these practices.

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Pain mitigation: latest video in Beef Research School series

Branding, dehorning and castration are painful, but pain is very difficult to measure in beef cattle. This also makes it difficult to know whether anesthetic or analgesic pain control drugs are effective in cattle. In prey species, displaying weakness attracts predators so cattle have evolved to mask signs of pain. While they may be a stoic animal, there’s no doubt cattle experience varying degrees of discomfort during some routine management practices. The age of the animal, technique of procedure used, and use of pain medication all have an impact on pain.

The latest video in the Beef Research School features Continue reading

A painful subject

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted with permission.

Canada’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling

of Beef Cattle lays out industry’s expectations about how cattle should be managed to ensure they are well cared for throughout their lives. This has value in explaining and defending our industry to regulators and the public. Canada’s current code was developed over 20 years ago, and industry practices, scientific knowledge and public interest in the welfare of livestock have evolved considerably since then. A new, updated draft Code of Practice is available for public comment until March 8.

The new draft code makes a much stronger statement about dehorning and castration. The current code recommends that Continue reading