Why are cattle spayed?

Cattle spaying is done to avoid unwanted pregnancy of animals, often in extensive pastoral areas where females cannot be segregated from males. Spaying (removal of the ovaries) prevents pregnancy and, in extensive beef cattle production systems in northern Australia, is used as a management tool to allow female cattle to put on weight and be ready for market, but also as a means of reducing female breeder mortalities, managing stocking rates and/or ensuring cattle destined for the live export trade are not pregnant when selected for transport.

In extensive pastoral areas, spaying is often performed using the Willis dropped ovary technique, which involves cutting the ovaries away from their attachments in the abdomen and allowing them to drop within the cow’s body cavity where they remain. The technique involves entry through the vagina and requires a high level of skill. Flank spaying or webbing (removal of the fallopian tubes) is also sometimes used.

Spaying of cattle in extensive pastoral areas is commonly conducted without the use of anaesthetics or analgesics despite all methods being painful for cattle. Petherick et al [1] found that the Willis dropped ovary technique is preferable to flank spaying and that spaying heifers (female cattle who have not given birth to a calf) is preferable to spaying cows. Yu et al [2] found that behaviours indicative of pain and discomfort lasted at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours following the Willis dropped ovary procedure but that the initial acute pain could be alleviated by administering meloxicam (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) under the skin immediately after the procedure. Electro-immobilisation is often used for flank spaying to restrain cattle in order to conduct the procedure safely. This method of restraint causes further pain and distress.

RSPCA Australia advocates the development of inexpensive and easily applied hormonal implants to control pregnancy of animals in extensive pastoral areas to avoid the need for spaying. Where spaying is deemed necessary, it should be limited to the Willis dropped ovary technique, and must only be performed by a veterinary surgeon or competent operator trained and experienced in the technique using effective pain relief.


[1] Petherick JC, McCosker K, Mayer DG et al (2013) Evaluation of the impacts of spaying by either the dropped ovary technique or ovariectomy via flank laparotomy on the welfare of Bos indicus beef heifers and cows. Journal of Animal Science 91(1):382-394.

[2] Yu A, Van der Saag D, Letchford P et al (2020) Preliminary investigation to address pain and haemorrhage following the spaying of female cattle. Animals 10, 249.

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Updated on March 22, 2022
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