July 30, 2012
Gentlemen, cross your legs. Castration (see, I warned you guys) is the topic of the week.
The inevitable byproduct of a dairy operation is a steady supply of unwanted boys. To bring a doe or a ewe into milk, she must give birth. Yes this is basic, and yes, we get asked often about how we make them produce milk. For every female kid or lamb, who will someday be valuable as a milker herself, there is a boy born. A lucky few boys get to live out their lives as breeding stock, but the vast majority are excess. It only takes one buck or ram to service dozens if not hundreds of ladies, so most simply don’t make the cut. They will be raised and slaughtered for meat, or may be used as pets or companions for other livestock.
We have the same issue with the chickens. We have hatched hundreds of birds this year, and we grow them out long enough to sex them, and then keep some girls, and sell some other girls. Few people, besides cock fighters, want the roosters, so they have one fate. The freezer. Even the sexed pullets (female chicks) you may mail order from the hatchery are just 50% of the hatch. The day old cockerels are most often ground alive (which is surprisingly quick and humane), or gassed, or used for reptile food, or perhaps put in large trash bags to suffocate. We would rather see ours grow up to adulthood and then “processed” after living a free life on the pasture and in the barn.
In my 10 years of ovo-lacto vegetarianism, this never crossed my mind. For every laying hen there is a dead rooster, and for every female dairy animal there is a dead boy. Plain and simple. Consuming eggs and dairy products kill animals. This is why I decided to start eating meat again, and why we are here on this farm raising meat the right way. We have killed a handful of chickens, and recently our first rabbits. If it turns out we can’t go through with the slaughter of our animals, and don’t feel good about it at the end of the day, then becoming a vegan is the only choice. There is no middle ground in my eyes.
There are several reasons to castrate a male animal that is meant for meat or to be a companion animal. Intact males can become aggressive, can cause unwanted pregnancies, and their meat can become stronger flavored than a castrated male, also known as a wether. Wethers generally take on the appearance and behavior of a female if the “procedure” is done at an early enough age.
We weren’t sure what we were going to do with our two buckings (male goat kids). They didn’t have a place in our herd as breeding bucks, but we ended up bottle feeding them, so they became very friendly. It will be difficult indeed to take them to the slaughter house. We’re still up in the air on it. If we could come up with a good reason to keep them, we would. If we can sell them as pets or companion animals, that is ideal. But if they are going to be eaten, we’ll be doing the eating, thank you very much. They’re named Stew and Vindaloo for a reason.
It was clear that whatever their future holds, their testicles weren’t in the master plan, and it was up to us to take them out of the equation. There are a number of options when in comes to castration. We would prefer to take them to a vet, and have them removed surgically with some sort of anesthetic. This simply isn’t an option for most farmers. It costs more than the value of the animal to castrate them. I know it’s hard to put a value on a life, but we do it every time we buy a piece of meat or go out to eat.
Another option is to crush the tubes flowing to and from the testes. It takes skill to do it properly, and we don’t possess that skill. The most common and easiest to administer of the methods involves a tight rubber band applied between the goat’s body and the testicles. Circulation is cut off, and then they shrivel and fall off.
The Elastrator is handy tool to help with this procedure. The special rubber bands are thick and hard to open with your fingers, and even harder to put on the squirming scrotum of a goat kid or a lamb. One person to hold the animal sure helps, while the other other pops on the band and counts to two. As long as they’re both below the band, it’s just a matter of waiting.
In all honesty, I think castration is woman’s work. We may be different species, but the similarities are undeniable with feeling to make sure both nuts are in the sac. It’s just an uncomfortable task for the male farmer to perform. The boys didn’t seem to notice or care for the first few minutes, but then they knew something was up, and moaned about it for about an hour. Anyone who has been around goats knows that they are vocal creatures, and will moan about anything. The level of pain is hard to gage. It’s the same moan they make when they’re hungry, or when they get a couple of drops of rain on them. We can’t deny that it was uncomfortable, but once the circulation is cut off, the area seems to become numb, and they move on.
The boys took it easy for the first day, but the next day were up running with their sisters, and on the third day were back to 100%. The testicles start to shrink, dry up, and ultimately fall off. This takes a couple of weeks.
This same process can be applied to lamb tails, or even horns on young goats. Evidently any number of appendages, animal or human, can be removed by cutting off circulation with an elastrator. I am still scarred by a google image search I did about using the elastrator whilst gathering information about what to expect. Don’t do it. DO NOT do it. No. Don’t.