The castration of male animals is an uncomfortable reality of farm life. Both pets and livestock can benefit from castration if it’s done properly and for the right reasons.
Castration is generally defined as the removal or disruption of the function of the animal’s testes, which produce sperm and testosterone. Without sperm the animal cannot reproduce, and without testosterone the animal will not experience puberty and all the physiological changes that accompany it.
The castration of meat goat kids has long been a farming standard in the U.S., but it is not always required. Regardless of the method, castration comes with the potential for complications, some of which can be fatal. Therefore, farmers should evaluate the pros and cons before deciding to castrate their male kids.
Since castrated males can’t reproduce, maintaining the genetic integrity of the herd is the primary reason most goat producers castrate male kids. Castration also results in reduced aggression and a goat that’s calmer and easier to handle. They also don’t get that “bucky” smell that comes with hormones and reproductive behavior. The pelt is also easier to remove with castrated males.
Castration is recommended for male goats that are kept as pets, for brush-clearing, pack work or fiber production. But it is not required for meat goat production. If you can keep males segregated from the females after puberty (4-6 months), there is no compelling reason to castrate male goats. In fact, there are several benefits to leaving them intact.
The University of Maryland Extension reports that, “Buck kids grow faster than wether kids until they reach sexual maturity. Ethnic buyers usually prefer intact males and may pay a premium price for them. Rams and bucks are preferred for the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice. It is not necessary to castrate ram lambs for the freezer (or locker) trade, since there is no difference in the taste or tenderness of meat from a young ram lamb versus a wether or ewe lamb. Older rams may have a slight taste difference. Some markets prefer older intact male goats, which tend to have a stronger taste.”
If you are going to castrate your male kids, there are three methods available: Banding, cutting and emasculator. What follows is a brief description of each method. For step-by-step instructions on these methods, click here.
The emasculator (like the Burdizzo emasculatome) is a device that crushes the spermatic cords and associated blood vessels leading to the testicles. When these vessels are crushed, the testicles atrophy and deteriorate. This is called a “bloodless” method because there is no cutting and the skin is not broken. It is not recommended for anyone who isn’t thoroughly trained in the procedure. It’s difficult to tell if the procedure was done correctly, and if not, can result in serious complications.
Cutting involves pushing the testicles high into the scrotum and then cutting the bottom of the scrotum with a sharp knife. The testicles will drop out, allowing them to be removed using one of several methods, including your teeth. What’s important to remember about this procedure is that you cannot simply cut the vessels attached to the testicles or the animal will bleed severely. The vessels must be crushed, “scraped” or pulled so they seal. As with the emasculator, it’s recommended that only trained personnel attempt this method.
Banding is where a tight rubber band is placed around the scrotum above both testicles, cutting off the blood supply and forcing the scrotum and testicles to wither, die and fall off in 2-3 weeks. This is the method recommended by U.S. animal welfare organizations for non-veterinary personnel.
All methods of physical castration cause pain. Research is being done on methods of non-surgical castration (i.e. injections similar to vaccinations), but none are reliable at this time. Research is also being done on methods of pain relief during and after castration, but these all come with added expense and the possibility of further complications.
The USDA’s Livestock Behavior Research Unit reports, “The data indicate that in all species, castration is a painful procedure, regard-less of age … It is common belief that the younger the age at which the procedure is carried out, the lower the pain and distress suffered by the animal.”
University of Maryland Extension reports, “Castration by banding is painful and should be done at a young age (1 to 7 days). Some experts advocate the use of lidocaine to reduce the pain felt by the animal. As with banding tails, lambs and kids should be protected against tetanus though either colostridial immunity or use of the tetanus anti-toxin at the time of castration.”
Early castration (within the first week of life, but after then ingestion of colostrum) is considered less painful, minimizes the reduction in weight gain and reduces possible side effects, such as infection.
Some farmers wait several months to castrate their kids in an effort to avoid problems associated with urinary calculi, which can cause a fatal blockage of the goat’s urethra. Leaving a goat intact allows testosterone to enhance the growth of the goat’s penis and urethra, which allow for the safe passage of urinary calculi. Early castration results in a narrower urethra and an increased chance for blockage.
But preventing urinary calculi is a simple nutrition-management practice. If you keep the ratio of calcium (Ca) to phosphorous (P) in a goat’s diet to 2:1 or greater (two parts calcium for each part phosphorous), the formation of urinary calculi is greatly reduced. When faced with the increased pain and chance of serious complications associated with late castration, veterinarians, animal welfare organizations and extension services recommend early castration along with management of the calcium/phosphorous ratio to manage the formation of urinary calculi.
Castration is not always required, but if done on the farm, be sure to do it in the right way at the right time for the right reasons.