Castrating sheep with teeth: not a good idea (with video!)

Just a quick post as I'm in end-of-semester hell. Via Maryn McKenna on Twitter, the CDC has released a report of Campylobacter illnesses due to not food consumption, but because of castrating lambs. With their teeth.

On June 29, 2011, the Wyoming Department of Health was notified of two laboratory-confirmed cases of Campylobacter jejuni enteritis among persons working at a local sheep ranch. During June, two men had reported onset of symptoms compatible with campylobacteriosis. Both patients had diarrhea, and one also had abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, and vomiting. One patient was hospitalized for 1 day. Both patients recovered without sequelae.

During June, both patients had participated in a multiday event to castrate and dock tails of 1,600 lambs. Both men reported having used their teeth to castrate some of the lambs.

Among the 12 persons who participated in the event, the patients are the only two known to have used their teeth to castrate lambs.

Sadly, this wasn't the first time I've heard of such a procedure. This was on Dirty Jobs a few years back (and yes, Mike Rowe participated--not for the squeamish).

On a related note, my grandma always had sheep on her farm. I helped to shear but never castrate. Now I'll have to ask my dad and uncles what method they used...

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Oh god, please tell me that is prosecutable as animal cruelty!!! I mean seriously, WTH possessed them to bite the lambs' nuts off???

By Rogue Epidemiologist (not verified) on 08 Dec 2011 #permalink

I grew up on a ranch with sheep, and participated in marking lambs every year after I got big enough to catch a lamb and bring it to my father, who did the actual work. (I did that until I went off to the university in 1953.) He always used a knife, never his teeth. Use of teeth was well known; and I heard, at the last family reunion, that one of my uncles used his teeth. I have never seen it done, except on TV. Marking lambs is hard, dirty work.

In addition to docking and castration, marking lambs involves vaccination (don't recall for what) and, in our case cutting an overbar and underbit on the right ear of muttons, and left ear of ewes.

If you know where to look in sheep country, you can find a resturant with mountain oysters. I've never had them.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 08 Dec 2011 #permalink

Apart from the possible transmission of pathogens this method is safe for all involved. I grew up on a farm - the son of a veterinarian. We raised dairy cattle, pigs and sheep for our 4-H and FFA projects. Each year we'd need to 'dock' and castrate the sheep and I don't ever recall Dad and my older brothers and sisters NOT using this method. Quick and efficient. I would sometimes accompany Dad to vaccinate sheep in the foothills around Bakersfield, CA where the Basque would herd 100's of sheep and they'd use this same method. Quick and efficient. I don't remember ever seeing a lamb in undue distress as a result of this method.
Mike Rowe gave a TED talk and described a moment of insight and awakening surrounding the episode you've posted. Give it a watch at . At about 3:30 Mike describes the answer to the question "Why do it this way?"
I've had 'mountain oysters' and depending on the cook, they're very good.


I don't know about sheep, but when we castrated calves on my parent's place we used a rubber band/grommet like affair called an elastrator that was stretched with a sort of pliers. The calves wiggle pretty hard when you stretch an elastrator band around their scrotum so you have to be careful you're actually getting both testes. I missed one once and we wound up with a one-balled bull. He grew up to be a very cheerful and playful fellow, sort of like having a 1500 pound puppy. I hated having eventually to slaughter him, as he had much more personality than most steers.

By Chasmaporthetes (not verified) on 08 Dec 2011 #permalink

I have a friend with a mixed farm, he uses the "rubber band" method to castrate male lambs. It's a quick easy process which causes vary little distress to the lambs, the testicles just drop off a day or so later. I can't imagine why anyone would want to do it with a knife, never mind their teeth, unless it's to save the few pence each band costs.

I have a mental image of the CDC employees sitting in a conference room discussing the pros and cons of publishing this report.

Pros: Entertainment value. Raising awareness for a potentially unknown route of infection.

Cons: Putting the idea in someone's head that this is something they might find entertaining on an otherwise dull Saturday night near a sheep farm.

By Stefan Gingerich (not verified) on 09 Dec 2011 #permalink

I'm sure pain medication is expensive and time-consuming for farmers to use, but we're supposed to be "enlightened." Lambs are sentient creatures. The only reason to condone this type of practice and spare the farmers the expense of performing it humanely is a might-makes-right kind of argument--we can do this, so we may do this. It's revolting. Reason #62,489 to be vegetarian.

If I were gay and lived in sheep country, this would scare the hell out of me. Any anecdotal evidence of straight women using this method?

By Ace of Sevens (not verified) on 09 Dec 2011 #permalink

it is so cruel and sad!!

Well, I watched the first 28 seconds but then I had to run and do something. brb.

@9 But do you also not wear wool, leather or any other animal product? This is done to wool producing sheep...

Years ago I worked in a vet hospital and they had some evil-looking clamp-like things they told me where used for castrating sheep. Guess they were joking or just didn't know any actual sheep farmers.

By MadHatter (not verified) on 10 Dec 2011 #permalink

The clamp is called, so far as I recall, a bedezer. I wouldn't be sure of the spelling. There is a pair in a drawer out at the ranch. I don't recall anything about their use. I vaguely think they were used on bull calves. I know about the elastic band method, but I think it came out after my time. I would think it would be faster than the other methods I know of.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 11 Dec 2011 #permalink