Docking Lambs

Most sheep breeds are born with long tails. Under the conditions in which sheep are kept in New Zealand, this can cause two problems. Firstly, the long tail can become covered with faeces if the lamb has diarrhea at any time, and secondly, the tail is a nuisance for shearers.

It has been the practice over many years to “dock” lambs’ tails, ie cut them off. Ram lambs not wanted for breeding are castrated at the same time. Undoubtedly docking is painful for lambs. Most men, in particular, could sympathise with this! While it is illegal for a non veterinarian to castrate a cat of any age, docking lambs is quite legal. This demonstrates an odd dichotomy in our national thinking, that cats feel pain more than sheep? Anyhow, it is necessary to remove lambs’ tails and testicles, and I am pleased to say that quite a bit of research has been done into various methods and which causes the least pain.

Using rubber rings for docking is the most humane method, and this should be done in the first 4 weeks of the lamb’s life (preferably first 2 weeks). Get someone who has done it before, to show you how. We have discovered that a little bit of local anaesthetic into the scrotum of ram lambs just before the rings are placed, reduces their distress considerably. You would need to talk to your local vet about this, and definitely have him/her show you how to do this properly.

Tetanus is a bacteria that is in the ground around pastures. When we cause wounds to lambs, they are at risk of getting it. The best preventative is to vaccinate your ewes with “5 in 1” vaccine in the month before lambing. They will then pass immunity to tetanus to the lambs via their colostrum (first milk) and this immunity lasts until 6-8 weeks, when the lambs should be vaccinated themselves with “5 in 1”. Small packs of this vaccine are available from your vet and you can do this job yourself. Again, if not sure, ask someone experienced to show you how. If the ewes have not been vaccinated, or you don’t know, the lambs will need a dose of “lamb vaccine” at the time of docking. They will still need vaccinating at 6-8 weeks as above.