16 April 2010

Animal Welfare

I started out posting this as a follow-up comment to a thoughtful comment that reader Sara left on a recent post. But the longer I typed, the more I realized that the issue deserved its own post.

The original post concerned the procedure we used to remove the horns from one of our rams. The horns were beautiful, but curling badly into his face and were beginning to crush his skull. Had we left them in place, his death would've been only a matter of time.

Sara remarked:

It is totally okay if you don't publish this comment, but I have to say that although you seem to be genuinely concerned with the high welfare of your animals, I find this appalling. To perform such an extreme procedure without pain control, sedation, cautery, or veterinary supervision is the stuff of nightmares. My heart breaks for that ram.

I'll start by saying: I publish pretty much every comment that is respectful and not spam. I appreciate every thoughtful observation, including those offered in a spirit of fraternal correction. Those are usually the best, anyway.

I completely understand these concerns, and want to assure all readers that we're very solicitous of our animals' welfare and comfort.


I can assure you that this method of horn removal is not as extreme as it looks. When we lived in IL, and had a large animal vet nearby, he came to our farm and did the exact same procedure with exactly the same type of tools on more than one occasion. Sara raises a good point, however, and I wonder if a sedative of some sort may have been in order this time. I do think it would've caused the ram less stress. That said: keep in mind that for dominant male animals such as this one, the primary source of stress is not being in control, and being tied up/dominated by a different Alpha. The horns themselves are not loaded with nerve endings, and cutting through them doesn't cause the animal the kind of pain that --- say --- amputating a leg would cause. Our Illinois vet used sedatives and pain medications in every instance where it was appropriate. He did not judge horn removal to be such an instance. We didn't hesitate to proceed without them, either.

This is a good example, I think, of a procedure which does cause some discomfort for the animal --- but which is necessary, and without it the animal would face a far worse fate. I probably waited longer than I should have to cut these horns off, as I wanted to see if they'd really press into his skull and threaten his welfare. At this year's shearing, it became clear we'd reached the end of the line and it had to be done. And as noted in a follow-up post, the ram is now thriving.

This is also an example of the practical realities of what many small farmers must do given the vanishing number of large animal vets these days. The nearest one to us here is many miles away, and must cover a very wide territory. Having a nearby vet is one of the things we miss most about our Illinois farm. The few large animal DVMs remaining tend to specialize in large dairy operations, etc. As you may imagine, bringing a a far-away large animal DVM to a farm like ours quickly becomes cost prohibitive. The ones that specialize in dogs and cats simply won't do it. Our sheep shearer has performed this same procedure many times (including on some of our other sheep, on other occasions), and has learned to do it as quickly and effectively as possible. We had no hesitation about asking her to do it for us this time.


Again, I appreciate the comment from Sara. I hope this post helps clarify things for all.

2 comments:

aka the Mom said...

I love reading your blog. It's a mini-course in animal husbandry and lets me vicariously live out my farm life day dreams.

Sara said...

Thank you-we have also had to deal the challenge of being too far away for a vet to come out when we need them. It can make things difficult when something serious needs to be dealt with.