To dock lamb tails or not – and when

Should you dock the tails of lambs or not? Many vets argue that leaving tails on sheep causes lambs the least harm, even though many farmers argue that docking tails improve conception rates and also reduces blowfly strikes. If you are planning to dock tails, remember always to do it humanely and follow these guidelines.

■ Dock the tails as early as possible, because newborn lambs are the least affected. Some stud farmers dock tails weekly to fit their management programmes, but most commercial farmers dock all the lambs’ tails when they are three weeks old.

■ Never dock the tails of weak or sick lambs. Always apply povidone-iodine to the skin before using an elastic ring or a pair of Burdizzo pliers. Apply an aerosol insect repellent to open wounds. Apply a pour-on parasiticide to the base of the tail root.

■ No tail must be cut off so short that the vulva is exposed. A longer tail will prevent infection of the spinal cord and sunburn of the vulva, which may cause cancer, as well as stop ticks from being attracted to the sunburnt skin.

■ Lambs should never walk long distances before or after such a procedure. Sterilise equipment between each procedure. Use portable lamb pens to prevent the procedure from always being done in the same place. Immediately afterwards, place lambs outside the pen to prevent infection of the wounds.

■ Lambs need to be immune to tetanus, so make sure to immunise ewes four to six weeks before lambing. Also, make sure the lambs ingest enough colostrum within the first six weeks. If ewes are immunised for the first time, they should receive a booster dose. Remember always to read the package insert for the specific vaccine you are using.

■ Burdizzo pliers (pictured above) and a knife affect the lambs the least, followed by the gas-and-knife method. If you dock tails using only a knife, it may lead to blood loss and even death.

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