Boy Bands are Back! Banding Goats 101
The Most Humane Way to Wether Goats and Tips for Success
Banding goats … it is how we castrate males that will not be used as bucks.
Using a tool called an elastrator, a thick rubber band (green Cheerio) is placed on the scrotum above the testes, eliminating blood flow, so that the testicles stop developing, shrivel, and fall off.
While banding goats is inexpensive, bloodless, and generally uncomplicated, it is not without controversy. There are conflicting opinions on the age at which it should be done, and some argue that it should not be done at all, that it is inhumane.
Unlike Europe, the United States has no laws governing the practice of castrating goats. Instead, there are non-profit agencies that offer guidance and humane farming endorsements to those that operate in compliance. A Greener World allows castration up until one week of age, by banding or Burdizzo under their Certified Animal Welfare Approved standards. They state that “the rubber ring is widely recognized as the least painful method of castration.” Many agree that this practice is acceptable if the animal is destined for butcher at a young age. However, once a male is banded, testosterone levels fall, impacting the growth of the urethra and leaving a wether prone to urinary calculi. This is not an acceptable risk for wethers with an expected lifespan of 15-18 years kept as pets, or used as pack and cart goats.
While we agree that banding should be delayed, from our experience, the greatest predictor of wethers (and bucks) developing urinary calculi is diet and water consumption. Having banded numerous kids and lambs, we know that banding a younger animal is far less stressful and painful, particularly if the buckling is not yet weaned and can find comfort from his dam. We prefer to band at eight to 10 weeks, to allow for maximum development. Ideally, at this age, both testes will fit snugly through the band. When this is the case, most feel very little discomfort. From time to time, even at this young age, we will have precocious development, and the only way to band is to move one testicle at a time into the band. The constriction on the scrotum, in this case, is much stronger — and as a result, more painful — something we try very hard to avoid. A banding schedule should follow not only the calendar but also consider individual testicular development.
We have yet to see a conclusive study on the benefit of castrating an animal older than 12 weeks. In Pakistan, researchers concluded that “castration at later age, like 10 weeks and 12 weeks of age has very similar development with a non-castrated buck.” (Pakistan J. Zool., vol. 48(2), pp. 501-506, 2016. Effects of Castration on Penile and Urethral Development in Black Bengal Goat ASM Golam Kibria,* Mohammad Lutfur Rahman, ASM Lutful Ahasan, Mohammad Mejbah Uddin and Mohammad Abul Quasem Department of Anatomy and Histology, Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Chittagong-4225, Bangladesh)
Joi Culpepper and her husband at Culpepper Livestock in Karnes City, Texas feel that banding is the safest method of castration. In 20 years of banding goats and cattle, there has been only one complication. “We had a buck kid that slipped under the radar and got missed. He was 3 ½ months by the time he got banded, and already weaned. Due to the size of his scrotum, the band didn’t cut off circulation correctly. Blood was able to flow in but not out, which led to a scrotum that was doubled in size. We had to go in with a scalpel and complete a traditional knife castration. That was a lesson learned.”
If banded too early, there is a risk of a testicle slipping above the band or not enough tissue to create pressure to fully restrict the flow of blood. This can slow the process, or result in complications. As a buckling ages beyond three months, the scrotal tissue develops, and there is greater risk of complication from banding older goats. The bands can only exert so much force, and with the excess tissue, often fail to fully restrict circulation. This can result in what some describe as “slipping of the sac.” The scrotum and testicles fall away, leaving the sperm cords intact and exposed. If the cords are still receiving blood, they cannot be cut. There is a risk of retraction into the abdomen, internal bleeding, and infection. Some choose to tie off the cord and allow it to dry — others seek veterinary attention.
While it is possible to castrate surgically, it is not our preferred method. We have witnessed surgical castration in five- to seven-month-old bucks that were no longer candidates for banding. Surgical castration involves sedation, which carries its own risks in ruminants, and leaves an open wound. There is also the possibility of significant blood loss. Burdizzo — or emasculation — is another option, where a tool similar to pliers is used to crush the spermatic cords. Bloodless, with few complications, this method takes longer to determine success and has a high rate of failure. When successful, the testicles will harden and shrink over a period of months, leaving an empty scrotum.
In our practice, we find banding to be the safest, gentlest, least intrusive way to accomplish castration when done in a timely manner. While pain medications can be used, we have not found them necessary as in most cases, the kids quickly return to normal activity. If you choose to administer something for pain inhibition, this should be done 30 minutes prior to the procedure. Some producers use aspirin or white willow bark tincture. Banamine, meloxicam and lidocaine can also be used by veterinary prescription, but possible side effects should be considered.
Ideally, banding should follow the second, or booster dose, by no less than two weeks. If the kid has not received both vaccinations, a tetanus anti-toxin should be used. Be aware that anti-toxin does not provide immunity; it works immediately as a short-term response to exposure and is only effective for about two weeks. Coverage from one dose of anti-toxin may not last until the banding site is fully healed (four to eight weeks).
Proper care of the bands is critical to the success of banding. The Culpeppers say their best advice, outside of the timing of banding, is buying a new bag every year, as improperly stored bands can break or lose their elasticity.
Since the procedure is bloodless, no disinfectant or sterilization is needed. Simply keep the bands clean until ready to use on a dry goat. Any moisture under the band, or disinfecting agents applied, can affect the band’s integrity or allow it to slide. Moisture may also attract dirt and flies, allow for the growth of bacteria, and increase the risk of infection.
Ideally, banding goats is a two-person job. One restrains the goat, and the other performs the castration. The band should be placed over the prongs of the elastrator. Having grooves in the prongs helps keep the band in place. The most popular position of the elastrator is with the prongs facing the goat. Either direction is effective. Squeezing the elastrator with one hand opens the band so that it can pass over the testicles. Using the other hand, guide the scrotum and each testicle through the band. Proper placement is critical. Both testicles must be fully below the band and it should be placed between the testicles and the body, so that the teats and urethra are above the band. When the band is in proper position, relax your grip and allow the elastrator to close. Check the position of the tip of the prong which is where the band will be placed. If it is out of position, squeeze the elastrator and reposition. Once the band is off of the prongs, it is very difficult to reposition. When you are satisfied with the position of the band, roll it off of the prongs. Squeeze the elastrator and guide it off of the scrotum.
Observe the goat for signs of complications. Some goats will cry, some will thrash and roll, some will sleep. Some will show no symptoms at all and resume regular activities. It is important that you observe urination, to ensure that the urethra was not compromised. Some will walk with an odd gait for a day or so, or lie in place. Slight swelling is normal. If you observe significant swelling above or below the band, surgical castration may be needed. This can indicate that there is not enough pressure in the band to constrict, and blood is filling the scrotum, or a possible scrotal hernia if intestines became involved. Consult a veterinarian. Signs of infection are redness, odor, or discharge. Take the goat’s temperature; a course of antibiotics may be indicated. In a proper banding, the testicles will become hard and shrink, as will the scrotum, until it is flat and leathery. Inspect the banding site from time to time to ensure that all is well. Within two months, it should naturally detach from the body.
Trenton Lyman of KTA Farms in Colfax, Washington learned how to band his show wether goats when he was 10 years old. “Castrating can make you nervous for the first time but when you do it all the time you get the hang of it. I’ve been doing it for 2.5 years now. I was nervous the first time I did it which was on my first goat, but I love doing it (I don’t know why either.) Be sure to get both testes or you’ll have to restart it.” He recounts times when he missed one or both testicles and had to cut the band and start over. His secret to success: “Feel with your fingers until you SLOWLY let go of the band … and if you stretch the band to much the band will start to wear out so you’ll need to get a new band otherwise it’ll snap and you’ll hate it if that happens.”
Do you have any tips for banding bucklings? Write to us and let us know!
Karen Kopf and her husband Dale own Kopf Canyon Ranch in Troy, Idaho. They enjoy “goating” together and helping others goat. They raise Kiko primarily, but are experimenting with crosses for their new favorite goating experience: pack goats! You can learn more about them at Kopf Canyon Ranch on Facebook or kikogoats.org