Tail Docking of Sheep - Position Statement

July 16, 2014

Position

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) holds that tail docking of sheep may be necessary to enhance animal health and hygiene – but it is a painful procedure.  The CVMA recommends that when tail docking of sheep is required, it should be performed at the youngest age possible with the use of appropriate analgesia, and that the technique used is appropriate for the age of the animal.  The CVMA supports further research in analgesic and anesthetic protocols for tail docking in sheep.

Background

  1. The CVMA encourages development and implementation of practical analgesic and anesthetic protocols for tail docking of sheep to mitigate acute and long-term pain and distress associated with this procedure.
  2. Tail docking is a part of routine sheep husbandry that can reduce the risk of flystrike by reducing the amount of fecal soiling of the breech area (1).
  3. Tail docking should be performed at the youngest age possible, and it is recommended to wait until after ewe-lamb bonding has occurred (24-48 hours after birth).
  4. Tail docking is performed using a variety of techniques, including surgical removal (i.e., caudectomy), hot iron, or other techniques resulting in necrosis of the distal tail (e.g., rubber ring, combined rubber ring, and clamp).  These methods are typically performed without anesthesia or analgesia and may induce significant pain responses (2-5).
  5. Tail docking with a hot iron simultaneously cuts the tail and cauterizes the wound.  This method is preferred as it induces less discomfort compared with other techniques (2).
  6. Tails should never be docked shorter than the distal end of the caudal fold.  Some sheep breeders and show lamb producers have historically docked tails extremely short to make the leg muscles appear larger.  If the tail is removed completely (i.e., leaving 3 or fewer coccygeal vertebrae) there is an increased risk of rectal prolapse (6). 
  7. Regardless of the tail docking technique chosen, all sheep benefit from the use of systemic analgesia (e.g., a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug – NSAID), and/or a local anesthetic (2,3).
  8. Tail docking of sheep should only be performed by competent personnel using proper, well-maintained equipment and accepted techniques.
  9. Veterinarians should encourage sheep producers to adopt the National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Sheep (7).

References

  1. French NP, Wall R, Morgan KL. Lamb tail docking: A controlled field study of the effects of tail amputation on health and productivity. Vet Rec 1994;134:463-467.
  2. Graham M, Kent J, Molony V. Effects of four analgesic treatments on the behavioural and cortisol responses of 3-week-old lambs to tail docking. The Vet J 1997;153:87-97.
  3. Lester S, Mellor D, Holmes R, Ward R, Stafford K. Behavioural and cortisol responses of lambs to castration and tailing using different methods. N Z Vet Journal 1996;44:45-54.
  4. Grant C. Behavioral responses of lambs to common painful husbandry procedures. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2004;87:255-273.
  5. Price J, Nolan AM. Analgesia of newborn lambs before castration and tail docking with rubber rings. The Vet Rec 2001;149:321-324.
  6. Thomas DL, Waldron DF, Lowe GD, et al. Length of docked tail and the incidence of rectal prolapse in lambs. J Anim Sci 2003;81:2725-2732.
  7. National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Sheep.  (NFACC website) Available from:  http://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/sheep  Last accessed August 1, 2014.

(Adopted July 2014)