Most male cattle, sheep and goats are castrated while they are young, to make their management easier. It goes without saying that castration can be a very painful and distressing experience for the animal.
So when males are born on your farm, you should decide if you need to castrate them at all. For example if you plan to send your male lambs to slaughter within a year and can farm them in a male-only mob away from ewes, there might be little advantage in it. On the other hand if you are keeping male goat kids for pets or cashmere or angora males for their fleeces you should castrate them. Otherwise the unlucky owners will be subjected to the powerful smell of entire bucks especially every autumn!
The most humane method
- The most humane method of castrating calves, lambs and kids is to use a rubber ring while the animal is less than 4 weeks old.
- While it may not be practical on most farms, it is even better if castration is carried out by a veterinarian using rubber rings and appropriate pain control (a strong sedative, pain killer and/or anaesthetic).
- The few dollars extra per animal is a small price to pay for a painless and relatively stress-free procedure with a quick recovery and no complications such as infections.
- Employing a vet also means that tagging and disbudding or tailing, and any minor surgical procedures like removal of extra teats can be carried out painlessly at the same time.
- If you decide to do the castrations yourself, you will need custom-made rubber rings and special pliers (elastrators) to apply them.
- Stretch the rubber ring with the elastrator and place it round the neck of the scrotum.
- Release the ring so that both testicles are in the scrotum below the ring and the teats are above it.
- Hold the testicles down with your free hand in the scrotum while you release the ring to make sure they don't escape back above the ring.
- It's best to do the calves, lambs or kids between 7-10 days old.
- After the ring has been applied, the animals usually show signs of pain by lying down and kicking for 5 to 15 minutes. After that they usually show no more signs of distress.
- The scrotum and testicles shrivel up and drop off after a few weeks.
The cryptorchid procedure in lambs
- This is also called the "short scrotum method".
- The rubber ring is placed around the scrotum with the testicles above it so that they are pushed up against the body wall.
- This keeps the testicles at body temperature, so the animal is infertile but still getting the growth benefit of male hormones.
- The scrotum shrivels and drops off after a few weeks.
- If the procedure isn't done correctly and the testicles aren't held high enough against the body, the animal may not be infertile and could get females pregnant.
- There is no advantage in using the cryptorchid procedure for buck kids or bull calves because of the management hassles of farming animals that are not fertile but behave like entires.