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Ag class activity brings up animal welfare question

Ag class activity brings up animal welfare question
Which type of castration is more humane for livestock?

Ag students in the Hagerstown High School introduction to ag class learned about castration recently. They didn't actually perform castration on live animals, but each student got an up close and personal look at what the process is like.

Kara Hendrickson, first-year teacher at Hagerstown High School, used balloons to represent the scrotum and gelatin inside to represent testicles. Students used scissors instead of a scalpel to make an incision and then pull out the "testicles" and remove them.

Related: Should I let livestock die?

Leads to debate: Kara Hendrickson used technology to illustrate various castration methods for her vo-ag class.

The students also learned about other methods of castration, including banding, where a rubber band is placed around the scrotum above the testicles until the tissue dies and falls off. That process typically takes two to three weeks.

"Which method would you perform because you think it is most humane for the animal?" Hendrickson asked the class after completing the exercise. All but one student opted for the banding. Most students felt surgically removing them would subject the animal to more pain.

One student, however, held out for surgical castration. He made the argument that banding the scrotum of an animal would leave it in pain for two weeks instead of a short amount of intense pain, followed by relief and healing. Once the band causes the tissue to die and fall off, there is also the possibility of an open wound where infection or flies can enter until it heals, the student noted.

As it turns out, the Animal Welfare Approved group, who claims to set tough standards for animal welfare, tends to agree with the one student. Their standards allow banding only up to a week of age, and castration for longer periods, apparently for the same reasons.

Mike Rowe, host of the TV show Dirty Jobs, gave a speech on animal castration to an audience in California, which can be found online. He explains that when he and his crew were set to film an episode with a rancher castrating lambs by biting off the testicles, he actually stopped shooting to question the method. He told the rancher he preferred banding as more humane. So the farmer banded a lamb and Rowe watched it limp off in pain, and stay in pain. Then the farmer did it his way, and the next animal hurt for a short time, then was up hopping around again.

Related: Food Dialogues: Consumers demand appropriate farm animal care

Rowe made the point that sometimes things aren't as they seem, and sometimes it's best to ask questions before reaching conclusions.

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