Dot and Janie had their kids this June and, to our dismay, two were boys.
When we started keeping goats, we’d decided that the girls would be used for milk and the boys would be used for meat. It was a simple formula that provided us with two essential products, maintained a manageable sized herd, and seemed perfect in its simplicity.
After keeping goats for almost three years now, I would no sooner eat one of our goats than one of our dogs.
Goats are incredibly personable; they are friendly and gentle and interested in everything that goes on around them. They will give you a kiss right on your nose and try to eat your clothes right off your body.
Perpetually hungry and willing to eat just about anything, goats would have you believe that they are always starving to DEATH and that someone MUST have forgotten to feed them earlier, because they are absolutely going to DIE if they don’t get more food NOW.
And, generally, I’m a sucker for it and they get a nice pine branch, a bunch of apples from our tree, or some apple-flavored horse treats (they go straight-up apeshit for these).
So, why our dismay at having two of the four kids be boys?
Because boy goats on applewood farm need to be castrated.
We don’t castrate our pigs because we don’t find it necessary and we don’t castrate our roosters because we aren’t snooty French chefs interested in capon for dinner.
Goats are a different story.
Because we’ve decided that we won’t eat the bucklings, and because we don’t want to keep bucks on our farm (to clarify, intact male goats are called bucks, while castrated male goats are called wethers), the boys that stay will really just be pets, necessitating castration, and serving no utilitarian purpose.
So, how does one remove the balls from one’s bucklings? THAT is a matter of some serious debate.
As animal lovers and caretakers, we are always interested in handling our animals in the kindest, gentlest manner. If we don’t know how to do something, we find someone who does, or we learn how.
When it came time to castrate our first-ever buckling almost two years ago, we learned that there are a handful of methods, and each one comes with its own set of pros and cons, and each one has a fairly RAGING political divide hovering around it.
There are basically three ways to neuter a buckling–cutting, banding, or burdizzo.
Cutting involves cutting the bottom of the scrotum off and pulling out the testicles. Sounds awesome, right?
Dave had the dubious pleasure of practicing this method on our friend’s piglets last year. It is unpleasant for everyone involved, but is the most reliable method for certain castration and involves only temporary pain for the animal. Cutting open does provide the possibility for infection and tetanus, but proper after-care can avoid both from happening.
Banding requires the use of an elastrator, which is a pliers-like tool that stretches an elastic band so that it may be secured around the base of the testicles. The band stays in place for about two weeks, or until the testicles “die” (i.e. shrivel up and fall off).
If banding is done improperly, it can be painful for the buckling, not to mention opening the door to infection and tetanus. If done properly, however, there should be no blood and the buckling should experience pain for no more than an hour after the procedure.
Burdizzo involves a clamp-like tool which crushes the spermatic cord and blood vessels leading to the testicles. This prevents blood circulating to the testicles and they gradually shrivel up and die. Even though this sounds HORRIBLE, when done properly this is another bloodless method with only temporary pain to the animal.
We are banders. We have banded all of our bucklings with wonderful results, no lasting trauma to the animal (after that first hour anyway), no bleeding, and no infection. I wouldn’t ever presume to recommend any one of these methods over another because, done poorly, any one of them has potentially dire consequences. I would only recommend that the person doing it be informed, confident, gentle, and thorough.
Which brings me to the story of our FIRST BANDING.
When Dot was born, she had a brother named Ramyu. (side note: Ramyu is still alive and well and living on a friend’s nearby farm). We learned all about banding and, when it came time to band Ramyu, the process could not have gone more smoothly. The band was on completely, both testicles were securely in the band, and for the first few minutes he was flopping and flailing and carrying on as though someone had just put a tight elastic band around his balls.
But when, after two weeks, we noticed no discernable change in the appearance or feel of his testicles, we knew something was off. They were just as robust and plump as the day we banded him. Clearly, we had done something wrong, so we took him to the vet.
The vet looked him over and immediately started laughing.
Apparently, we had used elastrator bands meant for calves, not for goats. The difference in the elasticity was just enough, as the vet put it, to “basically give the goat a cock ring but not ever make the testes die.”
We weren’t sure whether to apologize to Ramyu that we had done that or that we were going to remove it, but ultimately we replaced the erroneous elastrator with the correct one. Within two weeks, he went from buckling to wether.
This time around, we made ABSOLUTELY SURE we had the right size bands and gently banded Jeb and Atticus.
We check the boys every day to ensure that there is no sign of bleeding or infection and to ensure that the testicles are withering as expected.
This time, we seem to have gotten it right the first time.