Maryland Extension Small Ruminant Program
At what age should ram lambs and buck kids be castrated?
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.
Sheep & Goat Specialist
University of Maryland Extension
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