You got that buckling, (or that buck!), for packing, but have noticed lately that there’s something more pressing on his mind than the trail. Something that is proving to be a terrible, terrible distraction! So how do you get his brain back in his skull and out from between his legs and turn that smelly anger management case into a working animal? I have one word for you: castration.
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?
- Banding (COST: $$, AGE: 1 year or less) – Banding is the use of a specialized rubber band applied with a special tool to the joint between the testicles and the abdominal wall in order to cut off blood flow to the testicles and cause them to regress and fall off. It is best suited for animals less than a year of age, but at least a couple months old. This method is cheap, (about $25 to buy enough stuff to do 25 bucklings); easy to do for new goat owners; and generally highly effective. This is the method I use and I find it works pretty well. However, it is important to realize a few things, (especially if you are squeamish), before committing to this approach. The first is that this method does cause discomfort. Some goats are only mildly uncomfortable, some will show obvious signs of distress for the first few hours after banding if not supplied with painkillers. However, after the first day most of the would be wethers act like they’ve forgotten anything is hanging down there and appear totally unstressed. So make sure you have pain meds for at least the first 24 hrs. The second issue is that while the testicles are shriveling up if you live in a very wet climate you must be on the look out for fly strike, (the infiltration of maggots), around the testicle area. If you put on a good quality long term fly spray before applying the band this is generally not an issue. The final issue is aesthetic. In wet climates the testicles may be lost, (read: fall off, hopefully in the pasture and not on your manicured front lawn near the mailbox), within a month, but are more likely to develop a musty, or with fly strike, unpleasant odor. In dry hot climates it can take up to three months, but usually there is no smell. So don’t be planning to hike or show the animal until castration is complete, especially if you live in a wet climate.
- Surgical Castration (COST: $$$, AGE: 1 year and up) – The only option for older bucks that I have seen is surgical castration, where you call out the vet, he puts the buck out, and removes the testicles. You can also do this for younger bucks/bucklings, but it is pricey. This runs about $150 plus the call out fee for the vet, and is thus only really suitable for animals that you value highly. Banding does not work on older bucks for two reasons. One, because the rubber band usually can’t stretch wide enough to get over the testicles and into position. Two, because the testicles are so massive that they take forever to die off and make fly strike, (that is the laying of fly eggs and infiltration of maggots into living/necrotic tissue), much more likely. Having dealt with the smell and removing the maggots I suggest avoiding fly strike.
- Open Castration (COST: $, AGE: less than 2 months): Really only suitable for very young bucklings (less than 2 months of age), this involves cutting the scrotum, removing the testicles, and carefully scraping the spermatic cord to minimize blood loss during severing. Usually done in a matter of seconds without sedation or painkillers on farm by farm employees, this procedure is very cheap, (just takes a scalpel), and very quick, (though you can call a vet to do it too if you have plenty of spare cash lying around). If done quickly it is considered relatively low stress/pain. Having done it on steers it’s probably not fun for the animal, but it heals quickly and it seems once you get the job done the animal recovers quickly from the trauma and returns to normal behavior (within fifteen minutes). However, this ONLY works on young kids with small scrotums – try this technique with an older buckling or buck and you’ll end up with a goat that bleeds out and dies because the blood vessels are too large to clot effectively, (not to mention try holding down a goat to do this with some big testicles!). Given the age limit, this technique is really not suitable for bucklings intended for packing, as you want a buckling to be as old as possible before castration to allow his urethra to fully form and avoid urinary stones and death.
- Burdizzo: I’m not even going to bother listing the cost for this one, (it is expensive – think $40 or more for a good tool), but I will say I have heard this is an option for older bucks if you don’t want to pay for surgical castration, (but I have not actually tried this, so go do some research before you do!). Don’t bother with this though unless someone just happens to give you the burdizzo tool, (and they might considering how difficult it is to master and the low success rate at actually managing to castrate anything). The burdizzo works by crushing the spermatic cord and blood vessels, depriving the testicles of blood and the sperm of an exit route. It is difficult to get right, and it takes several weeks of carefully watching your goat to make sure you actually crushed everything and the testicles are actually regressing. If the testicles haven’t shrunk in size or have grown you’ll have to try the burdizzo (or preferably a more sure fire method of castration) again. A single use of the burdizzo is less painful than banding, but is it really less painful if you have to use it multiple times to get the animal castrated? However, you will find many people want to use a burdizzo because they confuse the lack of obvious external injury (no blood or tissue damage is externally evident after using a burdizzo, though there’s plenty of painful mangling inside) with being more humane. But again, which is more humane – castrating an animal once or crushing his testicles half a dozen times as you desperately attempt to get the job done before he breeds half the herd? On a final note, this is the last tool you want to use if you run your herd all together and want to have controlled breeding because you can never be totally sure you got the testicles properly destroyed since the scrotum remains even after testicle death.
HOW DO I BAND A BUCKLING?
- Vaccinate for tetanus – Make sure your buckling has both of his first 2 CDT shots. If he doesn’t, (and you don’t have time to give them to him for some reason), you can also give him a shot of tetanus antitoxin at the time of castration. This antitoxin is not the same as a vaccine! It counter acts the tetanus toxin for a short period of time, till the antitoxin breaks down in the blood stream.
- Consider pain killers – After all, if this was you getting castrated you’d want a little something to take the edge off right? Banamine (vet only) or more readily available aspirin may be advised.
- Get REAL rubber bands – Use only rubberbands intended for banding! These guys are special little rubber rings purchased through livestock suppliers, not office suppliers. Make sure you get the ones that are intended for goats or sheep, not the ones for cattle, (these won’t constrict enough to do the job). Keep your extra rubber bands in the fridge (or somewhere cool-ish) as heat can degrade their tightness over time.
- Get a REAL rubber band applicator – buy an applicator. If you have the real rubber bands you will need an applicator to get the band open and over the scrotum.
- Get long term fly spray – Buy good quality extended use roll on fly spray (or fly spray cream intended to go around wounds). You want to coat the testicles with this before applying the band to avoid fly strike, (that is, the infiltration of maggots into the tissue).
- Get the goat in position – Get a non squeamish buddy to hold the goat by his front legs and expose the testicles. It is important to get the band in the right place to correctly remove the testicles and minimize the pain for the animal, so invest in a friend, even if it means buying him lunch. On smaller animals your helper would typicall grab the lower legs to prevent you from being kicked in the face. However, on older kids that are very large, if your helper tries to grab the lower legs…well, he’ll bend the goat in half and now you’ll get horns in the eyes instead of hooves. Horns are much nastier, so just leave the rear legs dangling, and be mindful of them as you work.
- Get the band on (without getting the nipples/teats!) – Place the band over the testicles by opening the band and sliding the band on until it is at the junction between the testicles and the body. Then slowly close the band and remove the applicator. Be careful when doing this to avoid catching the goat’s teats, (male goats, like male humans, have miniature nonfunctioning nipples), as this is extremely uncomfortable to the goat and interferes with a good clean castration.
- Wait and watch – Some goats just walk a little funny (especially when dosed up with painkillers before castration). Others, (i.e. those without painkillers), will be more distraught for the first hour or so. Make sure they are somewhere low stress, preferably with their mother and siblings while they recover. As time passes check the wether periodically each week to make sure the testicles are regressing and there are no signs of fly strike or other issues. It is not unusual towards the end of the banding castration period, when the testicles are nearly ready to drop off, for a wether to get in a fight with another goat and have the testicles partially removed. If this happens you can remove the remaining attachment carefully with a scapel blade or sharp knife, and have some flour or blood stop powder handy to help clot any blood. Do not remove the rubber band, (as this prevents bleed out), and it will drop off on its own later. Also, I really don’t recommend taking a wether hiking until the testicles have fallen off, both because of the potential negative impression it gives the non-goat public, but also because I’ve always figured swimming rivers and walking in mud probably wasn’t the most hygienic thing for a partially dead set of testicles.
- Enjoy your new wether – Once the banding is complete enjoy a nice relaxing fall free of gibbering, urine spraying, and that weird smell you keep hoping your neighbors won’t notice, (but know deep down there is no way they couldn’t). Unlike many forms of castration banding removes all of the scrotal sack, and the goat will have a flush bumpless area between his legs once the job is complete.
WHAT ARE THE ISSUES I MIGHT HAVE?
- Vaccinate for Tetanus! Duh. If you put a large open wound on the bottom of an animal, don’t vaccinate it, and then let it lay in the soil you might end up with a tetanus infection. This is, as they say, counter productive to continued living.
- Consider the appropriate age. You want to hike this goat for a long time, but you also don’t want this buckling breeding half the herd. Find out where your compromise is, but try to keep with at least a 3 or 4 month minimum age. Many producers will try to push out closer to a year, but understand this often means keeping the buckling intact through breeding season with all those eligible sexy does.
- How long till the testicles drop off if you band? Wet climates (ex: Upstate New York with lake effect snow climate) it takes about a month. Dry climates (ex: North Carolina coastal plain) takes up to 3 months. Plan your castration dates accordingly. I usually kid in the spring and castrate at the start of summer…which gives you all summer to get the testicles to come off before hiking season.
- Can I remove the shrunken testicles before they drop off? Yes. However, WAIT until the testicles have started to regress or are clearly dying back and only remove the testicles if they are already mostly off already. Otherwise you might cut something important, like a big fat non-clotting blood vessel. Use a scalpel (or very sharp knife) as goat skin is quite tough and a good clean cut heals better.
- Wait…I have maggots…now what? Usually you’ll notice the foul smell coming from the goat first before the maggots, so if you smell an ill wind coming from the goat pasture go and inspect your castrated animals. Maggots are a sign you didn’t use a high quality long lasting fly spray, (so consider trying a different product next time). You need to remove the maggots, ideally with tweezers (or your fingers), as most maggots don’t just eat dead flesh, (the movies got it wrong!). They’ll happily chow down on live flesh too! Wait till the maggot sticks itself out of the hole it’s living in and pull it out rapidly and kill it. Soak the effect area in rubbing alcohol, (this kills maggots). Then apply a really wicked fly spray once the alcohol evaporates off, (one with actual poison in it – this is not the time for the herbal remedies or organic tinctures, you need something with real stopping power), to kill any you didn’t get. If you have the time it is beneficial to recheck the goat daily, removing any remaining maggots. If you have a severe infestation, (that is, you have more than just 1 or two maggots), I highly suggest checking the goat hourly for an evening to remove any maggots you see, washing the area in rubbing alcohol to kill the remaining maggots each time, and then before you go to bed liberally applying strong fly spray and giving the goat an antibiotic shot to avoid sepsis or similar.
- Gosh almighty this buckling smells. Is that normal? Rotting flesh (what you get with fly strike but not with correct castration) smells, while desiccating (what you should have) flesh does not. However, normal smell in a wet climate maybe a faint distant musty smell right at the animal at worse during a correct castration. If you can smell your buckling before you get to his paddock…you need to be checking for maggots. Again, use a strong fly spray to avoid fly strike and foul smell. Wash the area with alcohol to clean and dry the tissue if you feel it is getting excessively wet.
WHY IS IT WORTH IT?
For all you animal rights people out there, (and in fairness, to those who don’t enjoy causing pain to their animals and want to know there is a good reason if they must), castration is the number one way to increase the life expectancy of a buck/buckling. Not only is a castrated animal a better pet and less prone to destructive or escapist behavior, but castration also has great positives for the individual animal as well. Imagine that you leave that cute little fluffy ball of buckling intact. He’s going to go through rut every fall, from about August until December, where his blood pressure skyrockets, he stresses out trying to find does, and he stops eating because the only drive his brain can process is the one to procreate. This kind of stuff, not surprisingly, shortens your life! The average buck lives only to about 6 or 7. However, the average wether can live over 10 years, and never suffers from the stress of rut! So yes, castration is painful no matter how much pain killer you pour down his throat, but in the end it does add high quality years to his life.