Castration Day

Pictured: Cicely with her ewe and ram lambs shortly after their birth late December 2023.
Her ram lamb is the one we castrated today.

Today the Old Farmer’s Almanac said it was a “Best Day” for castrating livestock. I only had one ram lamb to do as the other 3 may have uses as rams in the future. Below I describe who gets castrated and some of the process. Be aware, it’s very descriptive, so you’ve been warned if you read to the end!

Determining Who Gets Castrated or Kept Intact

I’ve been asked many times what determines ram lambs being kept intact for breeding or what makes them market animals. The first thing is to realize that only the top 10% should be considered for breeding, the rest should go for market. I am running 2 flocks, a purebred St Croix flock, and a commercial flock of crossbreds (heavy on the St Croix, about half or under Katahdin, and a small amount of Dorper predominantly). This means I would keep one from the purebreds and one from the crossbreds. This I have done, however I have a customer wanting a crossbred ram lamb for his commercial flock so I kept an extra intact for him. Now you know why, out of 4 ram lambs, I kept 3 intact.

You should also know that just because I kept some ram lambs intact, doesn’t mean they are going to make the final cut as breeding stock. Today was merely the first evaluation of the ram lambs. We let them grow for as long as possible and castrate on a day before weaning that corresponds to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Waiting allows them to build more muscle and grow slightly faster but then they aren’t stressed any more than necessary at weaning time.

How We Castrate

We use a tool called an elastrator and small green rubber bands bought at the local farm store, pictured below:

We place the ram lamb on it’s rear with his belly facing upward. His testicles go inside the stretched out green band as you see in the picture. Squeeze down on his belly above his testicles and make sure both are in the sack as you close the band. Check to be sure his little nipples aren’t caught in the band, feel the testicles to make sure you have two oblong testes in it. At that point, use your fingernail to peal the closed rubber band off the metal prongs of the elastrator. He’s been “banded” and will hate life for about 45 minutes until things become numb. Essentially he’s castrated, but they will need to dry up and fall off for it to be complete. During the dry off time, you should monitor the banded lambs for any bad smell or if they start to walk hunched up indicating there may be infection setting in as the testicles pull apart from the body of the lamb. If you see this pulling apart, it won’t hurt to spray it with Betadine or put some wound ointment of your choice on it. If you suspect infection, you will need to talk with your vet as antibiotics will be prescription only after June 2023.

Another thing to consider is only doing the castration during the cold months of the year. If you wait until late spring to lamb and castrate in summer, you have a greater chance for flies to become a problem. If you wait until fall to do late spring ram lambs, they may be too large to castrate with a band and you will need to use other means such as a Burdizzo (that crushes the cords leading into the testicles) or the testicles will need to be cut open at the end, testes pulled through and cords cut off. Much messier, though very effective. There are many YouTube videos out there if you do a search.

We like the simplicity of the band and tend to lamb in cold weather so flies aren’t a problem for us. You do whatever works best for your system. In fact, if you have a place to keep ram lambs away from the ewe flock, you don’t even need to castrate them at all. Some customer’s, however, prefer not to have intact ram lambs for their freezer so it’s something you will have to work out for your market.

I apologize at the graphic nature of this post, however, farm life can be graphic, and I know of no other way to explain things of this nature! Not every blog post will be like this in the future, but thank you so much for hanging with us!

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