Several readers of Better Hens and Gardens have been surprised and a bit concerned about the fact that we wait to band goat bucklings (that are intended to become wethers) until they are ten to twelve weeks old. However, there is a good reason for waiting and not banding them too soon.
Male Nigerian Dwarf goats sometimes develop a condition called urinary calculi. It can be very serious and even fatal. With urinary calculi, the goat develops stones (like kidney stones in a human) that prevent it from urinating. If the blockage is not removed, the goat’s bladder will rupture and the goat will die. It can be very difficult to remove the blockage, so it’s best to prevent it from happening. Urinary calculi is usually caused by feeding too much grain and not enough roughage and/or banding wethers too soon. After a certain age, wethers don’t need grain at all, so if a wether develops urinary calculi, it’s often because it was banded too soon.
When a buckling is banded to wether it, the hormones that cause the urinary tract to grow slow down significantly. Therefore, the urinary tract stops growing. If a male goat is wethered too soon, the urinary tract may be very small and increase the chance for blockage. So, if you’re planning to own wethers, it’s best to wait to have them banded until they are at least ten to twelve weeks old.
When purchasing wethers, it’s a good idea to verify with the breeder that they will be banded at an appropriate age and wait the extra time before picking them up. Most goat kids that are being bottle raised can leave for new homes within a few weeks of birth, while dam raised kids can usually leave at eight weeks (or after they have been fully weaned). For wethers, it’s better to wait a little longer to minimize the chance of urinary calculi.
We’ve always waited the extra couple of weeks to wether any bucklings born at Bramblestone Farm, and as far as we know, none of them have developed urinary calculi. Waiting a few weeks longer before banding them and allowing them to leave seems like a small thing to do, since it can so significantly affect their health for life.