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Maryland Extension Small Ruminant Program

1c2tShphonesonredn ·
QUESTION
At what age should ram lambs and buck kids be castrated?
ANSWER
I’m almost afraid to tackle this question, as it has the potential to be controversial, especially among certain groups of producers. So, I’ll limit my answer to what research supports, noting that recommendations based on research consider animal welfare as the primary criteria. Generally speaking, castration should be done as early as management practices allow, especially if elastrator bands are used.
There are three primary ways to castrate a lamb/kid: banding, crushing, and cutting. All cause pain and pose some degree of risk, regardless of age. From an animal welfare standpoint, we should probably avoid cutting, as research has clearly shown it to be the most painful method of castration, as evidenced by the highest levels of cortisol in the blood. It also has the most potential for infection and fly strike.
Banding (putting a rubber ring around the neck of the scrotum) is the most common method of castration. It should be done when lambs/kids are 1 to 7 days of age. According to the most recent NAHMS study, more than 30 percent of producers castrate ram lambs in the first 7 days of age.
Later castration (~1-6 weeks) can be done with an emasculator (clamp). A Burdizzo is a brand of emasculator. It is used to crush the spermatic cords. According to research, the most humane method of castration would be to combine the use of an elastrator with an emasculator (ideally within 7 days of age).
Callicrate banders have been advocated as a “humane” option for late castration. I am not aware of any research (with sheep/goats) that supports this claim. In fact, an Australian study determined that the Callicrate WEE bander did not reduce the pain associated with ring castration in 10-11 week old lambs.
Some producers are fearful that urinary calculi (kidney or bladder stones) is caused by early castration (less than 3 months). I am not aware of any research in support of this claim. Urinary calculi is a nutritional problem. Almost all incidences can be traced to improper nutrition. Urinary calculi can be prevented by feeding rations with the proper ratio of calcium to phosphorus (2:1 or higher), feeding sufficient long stemmed forage, and having adequate water consumption (can feed salt to encourage water intake). Ammonium chloride is usually added to rations as a further preventative.
If lambs/kids are castrated late (3 months or older), the procedure should be done by a veterinarian. At minimum, pain relief should be provided. While other countries may have options for pain relief, the US does not have any over-the-counter options. Research has shown aspirin and ibuprofen to be insufficient for pain control following banding.
Of course, the best decision is to not castrate at all, but this is not always feasible nor advisable.
Susan Schoenian
Sheep & Goat Specialist
University of Maryland Extension
Send your questions to [email protected]
 

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Thanks for posting! I just booked the goat/sheep farrier/sheerer that also offers Burdizzo and perhaps now I've selected too late. I do utilize Banamine about an hour before she arrives. It's really interesting that she states both Burdizzo and banding was found to be the most humane - I can't possibly imagine why! I would have a pretty difficult time deciding which bucklings to leave intact as possible breeding stock by 7 days old!
 

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Some producers are fearful that urinary calculi (kidney or bladder stones) is caused by early castration (less than 3 months). I am not aware of any research in support of this claim.
No one believes that early castration causes urinary calculi. Rather, the narrower urethra makes it less likely for stones, if they form, to be able to pass. There actually is research demonstrating that early castration results in under-developed urethras of smaller diameter than those castrated later:

So although yes, UC is primarily a dietary/metabolic problem, it stands to reason that it may be exacerbated by a narrow urethra.

Also, bone development is directly affected by hormonal influence. I read an article not too long ago that compared bone density in goats castrated as kids vs. those castrated during or after puberty and there was a marked difference. Kids castrated young had longer bone patterns because of the delay in growth plate closure, but they lacked much of the bone density. This could be a problem for those keeping wethers as packgoats since low bone density could lead to osteoporosis, early arthritis, and bone weakness, thereby shortening the working lifespan of the goat. This is my own conjecture since the article did not deal with the specific use case for packgoats. It merely stated that bone density is significantly lower in goats castrated before the onset of puberty.

I really take issue with the statement that the best decision is to not castrate at all. The author concedes that this is not always feasible nor advisable, but to state that not castrating is the "best decision" is irresponsible. Uncastrated animals are why we end up with overpopulations and unwanted babies. Most male goats aren't breeding material, and the ones that are breeding material are good for one thing--breeding.

Castrating is not pleasant for the goat no matter when or how you do it, but neither is ending up on a dinner plate. Sometimes we do what we have to do to make sure our animals can enjoy a long, happy life. It's why many people have done away with horns as well. If horns are a liability, balls are an even bigger one.

The lifelong sexual frustration experienced by an intact buck kept for non-breeding purposes would be far more painful to the animal than any form of castration. I banded a three-year-old buck last winter because the owners were done breeding and although they loved the goat, he was starting to attack people and destroy fences. He was sexually frustrated. I banded him and a few months later he was mellow and sweet again. Now he enjoys his life of unrestricted access to the herd of does and to the pasture. Before he was castrated he had to be penned separately in a small area where he took his frustrations out on his companion wether and his human visitors. Now he's a kids' goat and he carries a handicapped child in the family when they go hiking. He has a much happier life as a wether than he ever did as a buck, and if he could talk, I'm sure even the goat would agree that the pain of castration was worth the free life he now has as a wether!
 

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It's really interesting that she states both Burdizzo and banding was found to be the most humane - I can't possibly imagine why!
I have personally found this to be the case. Since I often castrate quite late, I used to have my boys surgically cut by the vet. He would put them under for the procedure (a bit risky but necessary for surgery, which I used to think was required for mature bucks). I found that recovery time after surgery was a good three days. The boys laid around groaning for 12-24 hours, then minced around carefully for another two days afterwards. I was always very concerned about the risk of bleeding out and of infection.

Then I had the vet use a ratchet bander on two of my boys and it totally changed my mind about castration. Not only are the boys generally less sore with this method, but they get over it a whole lot quicker. I do give a shot of banamine beforehand and although I've been prepared to give more banamine the next day, I have never had to. If the boys lay around groaning at all (and only about half of them do), then it's usually for only 3-6 hours. After that they may mince around for for a few hours more, but by the next day they are back to normal. There is a time when the testicles are coming away 4-8 weeks after banding that I have to watch out for soreness and infection at the banding site, but overall I think the pain and risk is far less with banding than with surgery.

I have not used a burdizzo mostly because I've never had anyone to show me how to use one properly. My vet only used a burdizzo on a goat once and it had a complication and died so he was afraid to ever try it again. I'm not sure why he had that experience, but I know it has to be a highly unusual circumstance. The only downside I can see to using a burdizzo is that it takes a while for the testicles to shrivel up. If you didn't do it right, you'll still have an intact buck and you'll have to do it again. This might complicate my life with the bucklings I sell since I usually castrate only a week before sending them to their new homes. With surgery or banding, there's no lag time and you know for sure the job is done.

I would have a pretty difficult time deciding which bucklings to leave intact as possible breeding stock by 7 days old!
Yeah, that would be pretty hard! And there are a few too many things that kill young kids as well. I'd hate to lose the one I kept intact for breeding and not have any backups to choose from!
 

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But @Damfino , the veterinarian in the response was saying that using BOTH Burdizzo and Banding simultaneously was the most humane option (other than not castrating). I can't make any sense of that!
HA! You're right! I don't know how I missed that the first time I read it through!!
So... what on earth would be the purpose of banding AND elastrating? I'd love to hear a bit more clarification on that particular statement!
 

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Thanks for this thread OP, and all the knowledge @Damfino has provided! (y)

I have two bucklings this year that I was originally planning on wethering them both, but one of them is turning out to be quite a looker so I'm definitely going to wait as long as possible before making my decision.
 

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My vet only used a burdizzo on a goat once and it had a complication and died so he was afraid to ever try it again. I'm not sure why he had that experience, but I know it has to be a highly unusual circumstance. The only downside I can see to using a burdizzo is that it takes a while for the testicles to shrivel up. If you didn't do it right, you'll still have an intact buck and you'll have to do it again. This might complicate my life with the bucklings I sell since I usually castrate only a week before sending them to their new homes.
I wonder if your vet clamped all the way across the scrotum at once as that is the only thing I could imagine would cause such a terrible outcome with the burdizzo. When doing it you do one side at a time and offset the clamping (one slightly higher than the other). Never clamp straight across or cross the midline.

We burdizzo all of our wethers. No risk of fly strike/open wounds and they are walking pretty normally within a few hours. Yes, there is the risk of it not taking. However, if you isolate each cord and move it to the side prior to clamping you have a much better chance of the cord not slipping out. We tell all buyers what to look for to make sure it takes (testicles should not increase in size and will slowly shrivel up) and if it didn’t take then bring the goat back and we’ll redo it. So far (two years of kids) no one has contacted me about it not taking.
 

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I wonder if your vet clamped all the way across the scrotum at once as that is the only thing I could imagine would cause such a terrible outcome with the burdizzo. When doing it you do one side at a time and offset the clamping (one slightly higher than the other). Never clamp straight across or cross the midline.

We burdizzo all of our wethers. No risk of fly strike/open wounds and they are walking pretty normally within a few hours. Yes, there is the risk of it not taking. However, if you isolate each cord and move it to the side prior to clamping you have a much better chance of the cord not slipping out. We tell all buyers what to look for to make sure it takes (testicles should not increase in size and will slowly shrivel up) and if it didn’t take then bring the goat back and we’ll redo it. So far (two years of kids) no one has contacted me about it not taking.
I have no idea what happened for that vet. He's not a vet I use very often and my regular vet is a zoo vet who doesn't use a bander or a burdizzo. She cuts them surgically when they're knocked out for dehorning at a week old, but that's way too young for my tastes. I'd love to have someone show me how to use a burdizzo in person. I've watched videos but I'd rather have a lesson. I'd switch to that method if I could. And if I did enough of my own boys without incident I'm sure I'd eventually feel comfortable doing on the boys I sell. I'd just hate for someone to drive six hours home to Wyoming and then find out a month later that one side didn't take. Or worse, to find out he'd successfully bred a bunch of their does! But yeah, I sure like the idea of using a burdizzo on these big boys. It takes a darned long time for those great big testicles to finally drop off after banding.
 

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We didn’t have anyone show us in person, we learned from the videos and articles. The real keys are to isolate the cord to ensure it is actually clamped (efficacy) and to not cross centerline with the clamp (injury). We do a hard count of 5 on each side and have so far been successful. We also invested in the small side crusher which is meant for kids and lambs. It’s easy to work one handed so you can isolate the cord with your other hand. My husband does all the crushing, I’m the designated holder.
 

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For a big goat, it’s more like a 3 person job! It’s two for the kids, one to hold and one to clamp. I don’t know that I’ll ever burdizzo a full size buck just due to their size and fear of getting hurt. I’d probably just have my vet come out to castrate an adult surgically. I do know people do successfully burdizzo full grown buck, but I don’t want to try!
 

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It might actually not be as bad as you would think. Have 2 people, one on each side, isolate, count go and crush. By the time the buck comes out of shock you are already gone.
I'll just keep using the California bander and cutting the testes off a week later thank you lol.
 

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I'll just keep using the California bander and cutting the testes off a week later thank you lol.
So you don't just wait for them to drop off? What do you cut them off with? I'm assuming you cut below the band. I've got one guy (11 months old) who I banded two months ago and those puppies still haven't dropped off. They're close, but not far gone enough for me to cut above the band, and since they're hard as a rock I can't cut them off below the band.
 

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So you wait until they die and start to shrink, usually @10 days.
Then you snip them off about 1/2 inch below the band and leave the band in place.
A sharp chef's knife or surgical scissors will work.
This gets rid of the whole rotting thing and picking owners.
 

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I’m not sure about all she has to say. The only part I agree with is banding at a young age (minus the emasculator) is probably the least painful. I banded my for sure meat kids at 2 weeks last year and they never missed a beat. No crying or laying around. I of course would NOT do this to anything that is going to be staying alive for awhile, pet, pack or show animals.
Another thing with cutting off at 10 days is it’s less “baggage” to collect dirt, poop, bacteria and what not to get into where the band is digging in. It’s already dead below the band so it’s not hurting them any
 
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