It’s that time of year when spring is finally starting to raise it’s head and we are looking forward to the warmer weather. It is also when there is a hormonal surge for both mares and entire males. This is when most folk start realising that their colts are thinking more about the females on the yard and stretching their wings. George on our yard, arrived very much the bottom of the herd but over the last few weeks has started to give the eye to the ladies in his environment. There are a lot of common questions about getting a colt cut and in this blog I hope to answer a few of the more common questions.
To cut or not to cut?
The most common question I get asked is whether an owner should geld their colt or not. To each situation my answer will vary slightly but the majority of male horses in this country are geldings and there is a very good reason for that.
- The knowledge and ability to handle a stallion.
- Most livery yards will not accept entire males.
- Unable to field stallions with mixed groups or mares
- Impact of welfare of the entire male due to the above points.
In my own experience, stallions are less forgiving of an inexperienced handler for a mistake. Even in the most experienced hands they can become a liability to those around them, if they aren’t allowed to carry out normal behaviours that any mare or gelding is able to carry out.
If you decide not to geld, then this decision has to be based on the right reasons rather than emotional ones:
- Is their conformation ideal for the breed they are?
- Is their temperament easy going or have they inherited negative characteristics from the previous generations?
- Is he an outstanding example of his breeding and type
- Is there a market for his potential offspring
- Is it likely he will do well competitively, and therefore generate interest in using him with mares.
- Do you have the time, ability and facilities to handle a stallion.
If the answer is No to any of these points, then gelding is strongly advised.
What time of year is best?
When to geld? Time of year is important, we advise gelding when there are fewer flies around and when the colt can still get out into a field and move around. Depending on your facilities and what you can do in terms of turnout, waiting until the spring or autumn might be the only viable times.
This is to ensure that there are minimal post op complications such as infection or swelling after the operation. Therefore the best time to do it is in early spring, autumn or winter. Castration can be done in summer but there is an increased chance of post op complications. For me there is no upper age limit when it comes to castrating stallions or colts. When it comes to how early it can be done, the only thing that is an issue is; are there two testes? Testicles usually drop anywhere between 6 and 12 months in colts. If there aren’t two descended testicles by the age of 18 months then it is likely that your colt is a rig and these need to go into a clinic to have the internal one removed.
Gelding a colt can be done either standing under heavy sedation or under general aneasthetic and regardless of the method used, there are a few key points that folk should be aware of and are listed below:
- Is the colt vaccinated for tetanus?
- Are there two testes?
- Worming status?
- Is starvation before surgery needed?
- When to geld?
- Ability to handle colt
If the colt isn’t vaccinated (this can be started from 5 months of age) then it is important to ensure they are covered for tetanus. This can be done at the time of castration itself or at the castration check before castrating. Tetanus is fatal in the majority of horses and as a species horses seem to be more susceptible to the Clostridium Tetani bacteria than cattle, sheep, dogs and ourselves. It is a sensible vaccine to give for several reasons. Tetanus is a bacteria that is found in soil all over the UK. It also enters the body easily if there are wounds in and around the feet or legs. Foot abscesses are a common way that tetanus can enter the body, as are surgical wounds such as castration.
One ball or two…..
It’s important that someone has checked there are two testicles. Castration in the field can’t be achieved if there aren’t two to remove. This can be done by ourselves at any stage before castration.
It might seem like an ideal time to get everything done at once but it is advised that horses aren’t wormed when they are due to be stressed. Castration, sedation and in some cases general anaesthesia are very stressful events in a horses life. This is why we advise to not worm 72 hours before or after castration. Whilst worming is an important part of the management of young stock it shouldn’t be done at the time of castration. We recommend that you leave worming until after castration.
To feed or not to feed before surgery:
Starvation of the colt before surgery used to be the way things are done. However research has shown that in the mainstay allowing the animal to have a full belly before the operation reduces the risk of post op colic, so we advise that you keep the routine as normal for the 24 hours before the operation.
Gelding before or after weaning?
To geld before or after weaning? This depends on you and your facilities. There are pro’s and cons for both and I tend to discuss these on a case by case basis with the owner.
Having the colt used to handling and halter broken. It makes the whole procedure less stressful for the colt, if he understands basic ground rules and understands what a headcollar is for. On a general note, handling of foals regardless of their sex, should be done from day one as it turns them into more biddable adolescents further down the line.
How do we do it?
We start by heavily sedating the colt. This means they are less aware of what is going on around them and because they’ve had the chemical equivalent of “5 pints in the pub”, they take on a very wide based stance.
This allows us good access to the area in question but also means that the colt is less likely to make a fuss about what is going on. We then give antibiotics and pain relief, therefore they have protection against infection and pain relief on board before the first incision is made. The testicles are washed and then local anaesthetic is injected under the skin, into the teste and into the spermatic cord. The testes are then removed using an emasculator. This is a surgical instrument that crushes the artery and veins and cuts the teste and epididymis at the same time. The emasculator is then held in position for a minimum of 3 mins to ensure that a clot has formed to prevent the animal from bleeding after surgery.
We recommend that you allow the colt to recover until the next morning in a stable and then turn out, to ensure they get moving. This reduces the swelling in the area and this in itself will insure that post op complications are kept to a minimum. We also as standard will leave you with 5 days of anti-inflammatories to help with pain relief as no operation however skilfully it is performed is pain free.
Post op complications:
No one ever wants to think about what can go wrong but it is important that you are aware of the risks.
Post castrate blood loss in small amounts is normal. Large amounts of blood loss is not. If you can count the drops like you can with a dripping tap at home then there is no real concern. However, if you can’t easily count the drops or it is pouring out like a fully opened tap then you need to call the vet as soon as possible.
This is more common in draft breeds than in other breeds of horse. It occurs when the gut contents try to exit the abdomen via the surgical sites caused by the castration. This is a rare complication but it does happen. It is usually just the omentum but can also include the intestines. The basic rule of thumb is if you see anything appearing from the surgical site that wasn’t there when the vet castrated the colt then please call your vet. Most of these aren’t life threatening but are a recognised infrequent complication which will need surgery to sort out.
This tends to go hand in hand with swelling in my experience. This is why it is vital that the castrated colt gets out and moving the next morning. It is important that they aren’t thrown out with any females in the same field as even though they no longer have their bits they are still fertile for another 8 weeks AFTER surgery. I find that turning them out with a couple of older geldings keeps them settled but allows them a safe environment in which to recover.