In a new video, Dr. Joe Snyder, a member of the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners and immediate past chair of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Animal Welfare Committee, explains the proper techniques for lamb tail docking, what can be done to avoid complications resulting from improper docking, and alternative practices that can reduce or eliminate the need for docking.
The AVMA recognizes that docking of lamb’s tails is an effective way to reduce sickness and death resulting from fly strike. Fly strike is caused by blowflies that are drawn to the sheep by fecal soiling around the tail area. Flies lay their eggs on the sheep’s hindquarters, and the maggots from these eggs then burrow into the sheep’s skin, poisoning the animal with the ammonia they secrete. As the sheep’s skin becomes irritated, additional flies are attracted to the site, creating a vicious and painful cycle. A sheep can die within three to six days of onset of fly strike. To avoid jeopardizing lamb health and welfare, lambs’ tails should be docked no shorter than the level of the distal end of the caudal tail fold, and at the earliest age practicable. Tail docking itself causes pain and discomfort, and therefore the AVMA encourages the use of practices that reduce or eliminate pain, including, but not limited to, the administration of local anesthetics. Low-stress handling, the use of appropriate equipment, and well-trained personnel are also important to ensure good welfare.
Ultra-short tail docking is often performed only for cosmetic reasons. A shorter tail makes the sheep’s hindquarters look fuller; making it more likely the sheep will score well in competitive showing. Ultra-short docking of lambs’ tails is associated with an increased incidence of rectal prolapse, which is a painful and potentially life threatening condition.
The AVMA supports continued development of alternatives to docking lambs’ tails, including genetic selection for shorter tails, use of insecticides for fly control, and frequent shearing around the tail head for small flocks.