Lamb marking: best practice tail length - Elders Rural Services

Lamb marking: best practice tail length

It is just one of the many jobs to do over the marking cradle, but tail docking continues to be one that requires particular attention to ensure the best result.

What are we aiming for?

Length of the docked tail has been shown time and time again to have life-long impacts on the health of the animal. Much of the research was originally done in Australia in the 1930’s and 40’s, but studies since have reinforced what was learnt then. This research shows that the best results against flystrike were observed when tails were cut no shorter than the third palpable joint.

What’s the issue with shorter tails?

When tails are docked too short, the muscles at the base of the tail get cut and the animal can no longer properly move its tail. This means that the tail cannot be lifted to prevent soiling or to flick flies away – increasing the incidence of flystrike than in tails docked at the recommended length.

Cutting through these tail muscles also predisposes the animal to rectal prolapse. An American study in 20031 saw and 8 per cent higher rate of rectal prolapse in lambs with tails docked as close to the body as possible. In ewes, the short tail length also exposes the vulva to direct sunlight and therefore a higher chance of vulva cancer.

In some more recent Australian research2 short tail length was also associated with a higher incidence of bacterial arthritis in lambs. This was largely due to the longer healing time and higher infection rate.

What else do I need to know?

Providing pain relief such as Tri-Solfen, in conjunction with the correct docking length can yield good results as is recommended as industry best-practice.

The Tri-Solfen gel helps to reducing blood loss and infections, leading to improved wound healing. A combination of two local anaesthetics is used in the gel: Lignocaine for fast-acting pain relief and Bupivacaine for long-acting relief. It also contains adrenaline to reduce bleeding.

1. Thomas, D.L. et al. (2003). ‘Length of docked tail and the incidence of rectal prolapse in lambs’, Journal of Animal Science, vol. 81, no. 11, pp. 2725-32. DOI: 10.2527/2003.81112725x.
2. Lloyd, J. (2016). ‘An investigation of the potential link between arthritis and tail length in sheep’, MLA Project B.AHE.0238, prepared by Joan Lloyd


For best practice advise and product recommendations, speak to your local Elders livestock advisor.

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