Why do we dock lamb’s tails?

If you have not met Grover, here is our little Southdown/Leicester cross lamb.

grov

Isn’t he just the cutest? I thought so too 🙂

Today Grover, like any lamb on our farm, got his tail docked. Docking a sheep’s tail is not simply for aesthetic reasons, it has health reasons too. It isn’t cruel, but rather, it is beneficial to the animal.

Why do we dock?

It isn’t because the tail looks a little funny, although, I must say, it does look funny.tail

If the tail was not docked, the wool that grows on the tail would become caked with feces and urine. This isn’t just gross when it comes to shearing time, but it also is unsanitary for the sheep and can cause irritation. In addition, docking also reduces the chances of fly strike, a painful condition caused by blowflies laying eggs in the fleece and the maggots burrow into the sheep’s flesh. The sheep often dies within a few days of fly strike occurring. Some studies have also shown that docking tails increases growth rates. For these reasons, we dock the lambs’ tails within the first week of life. Some sheep do not necessarily need to have their tails docked. Hair sheep, do not have the thick wool, and it does not pose as much of a problem.

How do we dock?

There are different ways  to dock a lamb’s tail. We use an elastrator (we also use this to castrate).

elastrator

The elastrator tool puts a thick rubber ring or band on the tail, cutting off blood circulation. Around 10 days later the tail falls off. It is inhumane to use the elastrator on older lambs, which is why it should be done after 24 hours old but not after 1 week. Another tool to dock is an electric docker.Electric docker

This tool cuts and cauterizes the tail simultaneously. It can be done in older lambs, but it is still best to do it on young lambs.

Are there negatives of docking?

Yes, if done incorrectly. It is important when docking lambs to not make the tail too short. If the tail is too short, it increases the chances of a rectal prolapse.

I'm making sure to leave a certain amount of tail.
I’m making sure to leave a certain amount of tail.

Does it hurt?

A little. The younger the lamb, the less stress it causes, though. When we put the band on Grover’s tail, he did a little butt wiggle, and went straight back to mom. He acted like nothing was wrong. We have had some lambs be a little more sensitive, and act like there is something on their butt, which there is. They are always fine within the hour, though.

A quick drink from mom is all Grover needs
A quick drink from mom is all Grover needs

Is docking tails inhumane?

No, it is not. I have read where some people think that farmers have bred sheep to be unnatural in their wool production, and that is the only reason that we have to dock tails. While there are different breeds that have various kinds of wool, sheep naturally have wool. Farmers did not breed sheep to have an excess of wool. Those in the wild, do not have the same type of fiber as a domestic sheep, and do not even need to be sheared. For thousands of years, sheep have needed to been shorn for their fleece. It isn’t a new phenomenon caused by selective breeding. Farmers breed for quality of wool and quantity, but regardless of the quantity, any amount of wool on the tail will cause unsanitary conditions. While docking may cause some discomfort, it is often no more uncomfortable than getting a vaccination shot.

Docking is beneficial to the lamb. It is not just for the farmer’s sake, but also the animals. Grover did not seem to mind one bit about his procedure. He didn’t cry or really squirm. I think he was more concerned that his mom was calling for him and we were touching his butt. He was just dandy.


Further Reading:

http://www.sheep101.info/201/dockcastrate.html

http://www.sheep101.info/tails.html

https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/LiteratureReviews/Documents/lamb_tail_docking_bgnd.pdf

 

3 thoughts on “Why do we dock lamb’s tails?

  1. If tails are not necessary why did sheep evolve with tails? It is a human idea to dock the tail for all the reasons I have read about. Before sheep were nominated as animals to be farmed they lived quite happily with their tails. So I am sorry but I cannot accept the reasons given. It should just be explained truthfully that their tails get in the way of human farming so they are removed!! It’s is a selfish and painful procedure. I am told ithat is on the painful for a while. So what. It is painful.so why do.it? ! If sheep / animals were allowed to.keep something of their anatomy I am sure it is one less terrorising event in their short lives. Surely they could keep their tails. They HAVE to give up.their lives so it’s a small gesture of humanity towards them. Sorry but that’s the way I feel.

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    • Patricia, I appreciate your concern for the animal’s well-being. In answer to your comment, tails don’t get in the way of farming. Tails are left if they are hair sheep. The only reason we dock is for the benefit and health of the sheep. As has been explained, many complications can occur if we do not. We cause a little bit of discomfort for years and years of health. This is similar to us getting a shot. It hurts a little but it does a world of good. Would you in good concious cause that sheep to live a life of potential infection, fly strike or even death? I don’t think so. That’s why we dock tails. Because we care about our animals.

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  2. I ment to add to the comments about Grover that he had no choice in the matter of docking his tail. He was probably terrified that something was going on at his rear end. When animals are scared, and come to think of it humans as well, they freeze – similar to Grover. I suggest you practise what you preach by putting a rubber band around the Base of your little finger – as you could say that has no real use ( like a sheep’s tail) and leave it on for a few days. Then tell me it is only just a LITTLE BIT painful. Please try this and and give me a truthful reply. Thank uou

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