You might ask who in their right mind would use their teeth to castrate an animal? That question was asked by the Wyoming Department of Health after they were notified of two laboratory-confirmed cases of Campylobacter jejuni enteritis among persons working at a local sheep ranch.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog, Campylobacter jejuni is transmitted by fecal-oral contact or consuming contaminated food or water. And infections are commonly associated with eating poultry or unpasteurized dairy products.
But last June two men had reported symptoms compatible with campylobacteriosis. Both patients had diarrhea, and one also had abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
Both men had participated in a multiday event to castrate and dock tails of 1,600 lambs. Among the 12 persons who participated in the event, both men reported having used their teeth to castrate some of the lambs.
Maryn McKenna, author and blogger for Wired, claims that during the event, a few lambs reportedly had a mild diarrheal illness. McKenna added that C. jejuni was isolated from two lambs.
When lambs are docked they have their ears marked, their tails removed and some males have their testicles removed. Ranch owners and employees were later advised to use standardized, age-specific techniques for lamb castration and to wash their hands thoroughly after contact with animals.
Believe it or not, the practice by shepherds of castrating lams with their teeth is relatively widespread, and was more common in the 1800s. Males are castrated to make sure only sheep with desirable wool are bred.
The technique was even featured on the TV show “Dirty Jobs”, where Mike Rowe himself performed a lamb castration with his teeth. Rowe claims the mouth method is much less painful for the lambs, and goes into detail about his lamb castration experience at a TED Talk.
As the ranchers in this video explain, they use the mouth/teeth method to get a better grip on the slippery testicles as they are removed.