Monday, July 21, 2008


One part of raising lambs is docking tails and castrating males. When Chuck and I first started raising lambs we wrestled with whether to dock and castrate. We read a lot and asked other shepherd's what they do. Chuck and I are under the impression that if an animal was born with something it probably needs it. With cows we knew that many conventional farmers docked the tails of the cows but cows use their tails to swat at flies, but what about sheep. Sheep are a little different, sheep actually do not use their tail. They might have in the past but sheep have been bred to produce wool and as a result their tails become a huge mass of wool and if the tail is left long it attracts flies and they lay maggots- I think you get the picture. I can only imagine how unpleasant a tail full of maggots must be even if they are going to be butchered in 5 months. So we dock all tails. And castrating, we are really not interested in keeping a ram so all males will get butchered- so do we really need to castrate. We consulted with Patty the woman that we bought the sheep from. She said that she had decided not to castrate one year and at about 3 to 4 months she had little rams humping everything in site- even trees. She also said that if a ewe came into estrus during that time you could have unplanned lambs- something that we do not want. So we decided to dock and castrate. In the pictures above you can see me docking a little females tail. It is really quite easy, we choose the banding method. A small rubber band is stretched and then placed on the tail in a week or two the tail falls off. Same with the testicles. There are other methods but this seems less invasive and less painful although I can not vouch for the pain but they do not cry out. The banding is done between day 2 and 3 when the lambs are still in the jugs and after they have fine tuned their nursing skills. The tails actually have a small break in them- that is where I place the band. The males seem a little uncomfortable after banding of the testicles but again they do not cry out. 


Mike said...

While we do castrate our ram lambs (unless we want a ram ;), we do not dock tails. We think that tail docking is done mainly because of feedlot type practices used today. If a sheep is healthy, there is no matting of fecal material in which the flies lay eggs.

I enjoyed the pictures from your lambing season and wish you all the best.


Becky Utecht said...

We have raised Shetland sheep for years and have had no reason to dock tails because Shetlands have naturally short tails. We've only castrated a few lambs that we hope to keep as fiber pets. Intact Shetland rams get big spiral horns and feisty personalities. IMO, there's need to castrate ram lambs if they are going in the freezer, you will only set them back in growth. We now raise Bluefaced Leicester sheep and we do dock their tails, always making sure to leave enough tail to cover the important parts. Nothing worse than going to the State Fair and seeing all those poor sheep with their tails totally removed. Yuck!