Last Sunday was castration day. I can’t say it was uneventful. Annoyed

Measure Twice, Cut Once?

I had one small tragedy occur. I had made a notecard with the rams I wanted to keep intact, but misplaced it on the way down to the field. No matter, I thought, I have my Palm Pilot records which I can double-check. I already knew in my head which were the lucky few, most of them have distinct markings and are easy to recognize; and of course I’ve been carefully watching them grow. I started working through the group, sorting out ewe lambs and adults through a gate, and doing some miscellaneous chores, de-worming a few thin ones, trimming a few hooves. I grabbed a hold of a Hereford-red ram lamb that I had decided to castrate. He has an eye-catching pinto coloration, but I had other rams with higher numbers, so he was on the cut list. I sat him in the chair and got to work, lamenting as he reposed there, boy, he has nice long legs and such a big fella, it really seems a shame to cull this one.

Off he went through the “done” gate and I continued on. A while later, I grabbed another lamb, and it was the Hereford-red one again. Wait, what? I already did this one. Did he get back in here? Impossible, the gate is tight. Did I forget to push him through? I looked on the other side, in the done group. And then I saw. A brownish-red pinto guy, tall and big, who’d already been castrated. Noooooooo. He was on the sale ram list, not to be castrated.  I did the wrong one, and obviously did not double-check his ear tag on my Palm first. And there’s certainly no undo button on an emasculator.

I’m not one to cry over spilled milk, but I have to say, I was mad for about twenty minutes. It’s not the end of the world, I have several nice rams to sell, and tend to keep too many intact anyway. But I am going to watch that long-legged pinto beauty all summer and be annoyed by the mistake. Oh well. The world has lots of great rams, one more won’t be missed.

Science Fair

And then… As I reflected on what to do about the mistake, I considered whether to keep his twin brother intact instead. The twin is plain white, and white ones don’t sell as well as pintos. He is slightly smaller, but still nice (both are pictured above with their dam). I grabbed him, and an odd reddish stain on his thighs jogged my memory that I had wanted to look at this one more closely next time I handled them. What was that stain from?

I sat him in the sheep chair and was immediately puzzled by a strange, twisted looking penis that seemed kind of sealed-over and two-part. It rather looked like a vulva where a penis should be. I wondered, can he even urinate through this? But he had no abdominal signs of backup, and he’s generally a healthy, vigorous lamb, one of my biggest. His testicles looked weird as well, in twin sacks with a kind of seam down the middle of his abdomen, like a surgery scar. It ran the length from his anus to his penis, right down the middle of the split testicles. The wool on his testicles was urine-soaked and sticky, thus the dark stain. His skin was a little irritated there, but nothing serious. (Click on either photo for a larger version of today’s fascinating science exhibit.)

Hermes1I couldn’t really figure out what I was looking at, so I set him free and figured I’d ponder it later. As I was working near him, I heard him pee. And I took a look. The pee was coming out an opening that  I couldn’t see before, right where a vulva should be, along that reddish scar-like seam. But because it wasn’t a proper-shaped vulva, and he was just standing around peeing like a ram instead of squatting like a ewe, the pee ran down his thighs rather than making a stream that could clear the body. Thus the staining on the wool and the irritated skin.

Hermes2And so. This little Picasso would appear to be a pseudohermaphrodite– a lamb with some spare parts belonging to the opposite sex. Curious! We certainly hear about this phenom in humans, where it can cause a lot of hand-wringing for parents of a newborn. A little innerweb searching would imply that in goats, this can be caused by breeding together two polled animals. It’s lowly heritable in some breeds of cat and dog. But, in sheep, it sounds like it’s pretty unusual and probably just a random fetal mis-development incident. This breeding was an outcross, so no concerns of  inbreeding. I’ve not paired this ram and ewe together before, but have done several similar pairings with no issues. So I don’t have reason to think it was inherited.

I won’t worry about it, I’ll just let him (her? Winking smile) grow up to be a butcher lamb. I didn’t castrate him just because I was a little reluctant to mess around with possibly already messed-up plumbing. I have to guess that he would not manage to breed with that odd-looking equipment anyway. Though, never say never, I’ll house him with the intact rams so he doesn’t get a chance to test it out.

Every day, something interesting on a farm!