Docking is in full swing and too many farmers are not heeding the MAF Sheep Welfare Code and are docking their lambs’ tails too short. The rule is simple to remember – “the dock should be able to wag”!
Docking is done under considerable time pressure on farms, and when using rubber rings, the fastest method is to push the ring along the tail until the pliers hit the lamb’s body before release. This is too short, as the ring needs to be released to leave a dock that will cover the vulva on a female lamb and the equivalent length on a male. This needs a bit more care and time to get into the routine. The same happens with the hot iron guillotine – the dock can be removed too short.
There are very good animal welfare reasons for these recommendations on length of dock. If the lamb can wag its dock, then the muscles and surrounding tissue that control the anus are not damaged, and the lamb will then be able to project any faeces, especially from spring pasture away from the body and remain much cleaner. Otherwise dung runs down the lamb’s back end, causing dags that attract blowflies and this means more work and expense in prevention and treatment.
This advice is based on research reviews from New Zealand and Australian studies which also showed that using rubber rings caused less total stress than the old method of surgical docking with a knife.
The tail dock should certainly not be any longer than this recommended length as it causes extra work and cost in dagging, crutching and shearing. Studies have shown that correctly-docked lambs are generally less daggy than those docked too short.
A tail should drop off in about 10 days after docking and it’s important to check that all the wounds are clean and dry so not to attract blowflies. Tails should be allowed to drop off on their own accord and not be cut off below the ring as this again may attract blowflies that can start to be active very early in the year.
The Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Sheep is available from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, PO Box 2526, Wellington.