Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wether he likes it or not

Earlier this spring, Mary got conned into taking a couple of unweaned bucklings. Her plan was to use them for cart goats.

One of the eternal conundrums of farming dairy goats is what to do with the boys. You see, to get milk, you have to breed the goat. When you breed the goat, you get kids. Half of the kids are bucklings. The doelings can be kept or sold, but there isn't nearly as much demand for bucklings. One full-grown buck can handle several does (in practice, it probably averages out to a dozen or so, but bigger farms will have more does per buck, and smaller farms may have a buck for only three or four does.)

One solution is to dress them out like rabbits right at birth. I don't think that happens much -- probably because baby coats are just so dern cute.

Anyhow, most bucklings are wethered (castrated). You don't want to have an intact buck around if you don't need him. They stink, and have some habits that we humans find rather disgusting. Also, they can get aggressive during the rut.

So, out of a hundred kids born, you might end up with fifty does and three or four bucklings that will be sold as stud bucks. The forty-some remaining bucklings will need to be dealt with in some fashion. They should be wethered.

What do you do with a wether? Well, the lucky ones will become pampered pets. The unlucky ones will become ignored pets. Some are kept or even rented out as weed eaters. Goats are very effective at clearing out the underbrush. In fact, if I lived in the areas where invasive weeds are a problem, I would keep the wethers and rent them out to people who want to get rid of kudzu, multiflora roses, Himalayan blackberries, and the like. Here in Michigan, there are very few plants that will take over an area the way you see elsewhere.

Some will become 'buck buddies'. Goats are social animals, so they need companions. You don't generally want to run the bucks with the does because they can give the milk a 'bucky' taste, and will also breed with does that you don't necessarily want to breed at the time, or with that buck. So, the goats are kept in a pen with a wether.

Wethers can be trained to pull a cart or carry a pack. If I wanted to camp in a mountainous area, I would definitely want a few pack goats. They can literally go anywhere I can go (and then some), can carry about as much as I can long-term, and can eat whatever they find. Lamachas and Nubians are often used as beasts of burden because they are bigger breeds, and are very willing workers (if properly trained).

Finally, chevon (goat meat) is starting to catch on in this country. Elsewhere, it is as common as beef or pork. I understand it is somewhere between beef and venison (deer) in flavor. That is what will probably happen to our remaining buckling (the other little snot up and died -- probably because he kept getting into the chicken feed and ended up getting bloated.)

But, no matter what happens with meat boy (I renamed him), he needs to be wethered. He isn't the fine specimen of toggenburgness (is that a word?) that his daddy is, so he won't be used as a stud buck. One way or the other, he gets to join the un-nutted generation (which, I guess, is a dead end).

But there is still hope for him. If those who wanted to make a cart of pack goat out of him are serious about it, they can still start with the training process. If not, he can be placed right next to all the meat chickens in our freezer. That will cut our food bill considerably, and give us much healthier meat to eat.

So, how do you rob a goat of his family jewels? There are three main methods, and opinions vary. If the experts can't agree, how am I supposed to choose?

Well, what I did was to read their reasons, and go with that looked the best.

First of all, knocking out a goat is not practical. Even vets don't generally do it with ruminants (animals that chew their cud) because it tends to stop all the muscles that keep everything going, but the microbes in the rumen keep on churning out gas and stuff.

The most direct method is to slice off the bottom of the scrotum, pop the testicles out, and cut the cords. The wound is left open to drain. It heals soon enough, but is subject to infection in the mean time.

I guess pain killers can be given before hand, but we don't have any, and don't really want to get into that situation (doses can be tricky). Also, I don't feel like cutting on a live animal, so that method is out.

The second method is to use a burdizzo. A burdizzo is kind of like locking pliers, but the pieces that clamp together are narrow and flat. This device is used to crush the cord that supplies blood to the testicles. With a much-reduced blood supply, they wither and die. If you want to see the process, you can type "burdizzo" into your favorite search engine. Be careful, though, because the first hits will um... pertain to the non-livestock and unauthorized use of that castration device.

I decided to wimp out and use the simplest method; banding. Actually, it's the only method we have seen used around here.

We went to TSC (Tractor Supply Company) and bought an elasterator (another word to look up with caution). It has four little prongs that stretch out a very thick and sturdy rubber band. Once the band is stretched out, the scrotum and testicles are pushed through it, and it is released -- leaving the whole mess dangling without a blood supply.

In theory, the whole kit-n-kaboodle goes numb very quickly, then dies. Over the space of a few weeks, it dries out and falls off.

So, I grabbed meat boy, did the band thing, and tossed his fuzzy butt back into the pen. It didn't seem to bother him in the least.

But a little later, when Mary was singing to her horse and feeding her, she told me that he was laying around and complaining.

So, I grabbed him again and looked him over. Everything seemed to be OK. Still, he walked kind of bow-legged and complained. I wanted to say "Quit complaining, you big wimp!", but I think I would complain if someone did that to me.

The bands that came with the elasterator look fine, but I grabbed a band out of the other package and banded him again. If one band won't do the job, maybe two will.

It didn't change things much at first, but he seemed to get better after a little while. By the next day, he was fine. The scrotum is now soft and floppy and dangly. When I squeeze it, he doesn't notice. So, everything appears to be working fine.

By the way, removing the band was not an option. Once it has been in place for a while, the flesh that was cut off from the body has started to die. Restoring circulation to that area could cause serious problems because any bacteria that gets into the dead tissue would be carried to the rest of the body.

So anyhow, Meat Boy has been wethered -- whether he likes it or not.

Gratuitous image of the day:

Paul is riding Sarah.


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