Cattle spaying


Ratification Date: 08 Dec 2022


  1. Spaying of cattle should be a restricted act of veterinary science.
  2. Veterinarians should use the following techniques until suitable alternatives are developed:
  • Willis Dropped-Ovary Technique (WDOT), or
  • Per-vaginal spaying or webbing
  1. Appropriate analgesia must be used including COX-2 specific inhibitory nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  2. Where jurisdictions permit spaying of cattle by lay operators, they must be trained and competent, use only the WDOT, and provide appropriate analgesia. Lay operators must not perform flank spaying or webbing of cattle under any circumstances.
  3. In exceptional circumstances when the per-vaginal approach is deemed unsuitable in individual animals, flank spaying or webbing may be performed by veterinarians with the use of appropriate anaesthesia and analgesia, including local/ regional anaesthetics and systemic analgesics; sedation may also be indicated.
  4. Animals must be assessed by the veterinarian to be sufficiently healthy to undergo a procedure. Animals showing signs of disease, weakness or emaciation must not be spayed by any technique.


Long-term contraception can benefit the welfare and production of cattle where females cannot be segregated from males and in other, limited, circumstances. In extensive pastoral conditions, contraception enables cull females to survive and achieve marketable body condition by preventing the stress of mismanaged pregnancy, calving and lactation.

Spaying female cattle in northern Australia is still considered vitally necessary for manageable and profitable extensive production systems, and will continue as the only practical method of contraception until new technologies are available.  There are a range of techniques and all cause significant transient pain, with risks of blood and productivity loss; in some cases, particularly flank spaying, there are risks of wound infection, spreading of blood borne diseases and death.

The Willis Dropped-Ovary Technique (WDOT) involves transvaginal separation of the ovaries from their blood supply; these are then left in the abdominal cavity. Since the advent of this technique, the use of and need for surgical flank spaying has ceased.  WDOT is preferable as it causes less pain and stress, it reduces the risk of infection, it does not result in hide or carcass damage, and animals recover faster.

The use of appropriate systemic analgesia at the time of WDOT spaying is essential as it mitigates the procedural and postsurgical stress, pain, and inflammation.

Laws in some states permit the spaying of cattle by non-veterinary lay operators.  In these circumstances, they should be trained and competent, and restricted to using the WDOT with appropriate analgesics. 


The Australian Veterinary Association strongly supports research into non-invasive means of controlling oestrus and conception in cattle management systems with a view to removing the need for surgical spaying.

In the last decade, priority research and development areas have focussed on the development of Gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH) and Zona Pellucida immune-contraceptive vaccines. The aim is for a high efficacy, depot agonist contraceptive for female cattle requiring a single application with a duration of action exceeding 12 months. The Australian Cattle Veterinarians (ACV) group understands that an effective vaccine with these properties will be commercially available in the near future, and support the cessation of spaying once this occurs.


McCosker K, Letchford P. Petherick JC, Meyer D, McGowan M. Morbidity, mortality and body weight gain of surgical spayed, yearling Braham heifers. Australian Veterinary Journal 2010;88:497–503.

Yu A, Van der Saag D, Letchford P, Windsor P, White P. Preliminary Investigation to Address Pain and Haemorrhage Following the Spaying of Female Cattle. Animals (Basel). 2020;10(2):249

Peterick J, McCosker K, Mayer D, Letchford P, McGowan M. 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. J Anim. Sci. 2013;91(1):382-94.

Lauder K, Marti S, Schwartzkopf-Genswein K, Jelinski M, Janzen E. Measuring behavioral and physiological responses to pain mitigation for ovariectomy in Bos taurus yearling beef heifers. J. Anim. Sci. 2020;98(1)386

Date of ratification by AVA Board 8 December 2022