Tail docking and castration of lambs and sheep

Ratification Date: 29 Jul 2016


Tail docking and castration of lambs under three (3) months of age by non-veterinarians are acceptable provided that:

  • the procedures are performed by a skilled and preferably accredited operator; and
  • appropriate pain relief is provided; and
  • the tail is docked at the third palpable joint.

Both procedures should be done as early as possible without risking disruption of maternal bonding.

Castration and tail docking of sheep older than three (3) months must be treated as a major surgical procedure and should be performed by a veterinarian using appropriate anaesthesia and analgesia.

Short tail docking should not be permitted because of the health and welfare problems that can result from this practice.


Tail docking is performed in sheep to reduce the incidence of blowfly strike that may result from urine and faecal staining of the perineum. Castration is performed for management reasons and perceived meat quality benefits. If the intention is to slaughter lambs at an early age, castration may not be required.

All castration and tailing methods cause pain and without analgesia there is an additional risk of longer-term hyperalgesia at the site. All such interventions should include appropriate perioperative analgesia, such as local anaesthetic and systemic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Studies show varying results in terms of the relative pain associated with ring or knife methods.

Short tail docking, where the tail is docked shorter than the third palpable joint, is currently practised in some breeds. This procedure can cause health and welfare problems, including increased breech staining and associated fly strike, an increase in rectal prolapse in ram lambs, and vulval neoplasia from sun exposure.

Other recommendations

  1. Industry, with veterinary input, should establish an accreditation program to identify and train skilled operators to perform surgical castration and tail docking of lambs less than 3 months of age, using appropriate pain relief.
  2. Alternatives to these procedures should be sought as a longer-term solution.

Other relevant policies and position statements

Surgical alteration to the natural state of animals

Pain relief during husbandry procedures

Castration of adult rams

Further reading

  • Animal Welfare (Painful Husbandry Procedures) Code of Welfare, 2005, New Zealand.
  • Animal Welfare (Painful Husbandry Procedures) Code of Welfare Report, 2005, New Zealand. http://www.legislation.govt.nz/deemedreg/2005/096be8ed80840c50/latest/viewdr.aspx
  • Farm Animal Welfare Council. Report on the implications of castration and tail docking for the welfare of lambs, June 2008. FAWC, London. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fawc-report-on-the-implications-of-castration-and-tail-docking-for-the-welfare-of-lambs
  • Fisher MW, Gregory NG, Kent JE et al. Justifying the appropriate length for docking lambs tails: a review of the literature. In: Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production 2004;64:293–296.
  • 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;18:134.
  • Graham MJ, Kent JE, Molony V. Effects of four analgesic treatments on the behavioural and cortisol responses of 3-week-old lambs to tail docking. Vet J 1997;153:87–97.
  • Grant C. Behavioural responses of lambs to common painful husbandry procedures. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2004;87:255.
  • Hayward M. Pain and its control in routine husbandry practices in sheep and cattle. A review prepared for the ACT Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, March 2002.
  • Kent JE, Molony V, Graham MJ. Comparison of methods for the reduction of acute pain produced by rubber ring castration or tail docking of week-old lambs. Vet J 1998;155:39–51.
  • Lomax S, Dickson H, Shiell M et al. Topical anaesthesia alleviates short-term pain of castration and tail docking in lambs. Aust Vet J 2010;88:67–74.
  • Mellor DJ, Stafford KJ. Acute castration and/or tailing distress and its alleviation in lambs. NZ Vet. J 2000;48:33–43.
  • Model Code of Practice for the welfare of animals: the sheep. 2nd edn. PISC Report 89. CSIRO Publishing, 2006. http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/5389.htm
  • Munro T, Evans I. Tail length in lambs: the long and the short of it. Farming Ahead Aug 2009; No. 211:88–89. http://www.flyboss.org.au/files/pages/management/tail-length/Kondinin_Tail_Length_article_130410.pdf
  • Mutilations (Permitted procedures) (England) Regulations 2007 (UK). http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/3034/contents/made
  • Recommended Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals. Canadian Agri-Food Research Council, 1995. http://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/transport/code
  • RSPCA Australia. Position Paper B4. Invasive farm animal husbandry procedures, 2014. http://kb.rspca.org.au/files/2/.
  • Thomas DL, Waldron DF, Lowe GD et al. Length of docked tail and the incidence of rectal prolapse in lamb. J Anim Sci 2003;81:2725–2732.
  • Vandegraaff R. Squamous-cell carcinoma of the vulva in merino sheep. Aust Vet J 1976;52(1): 21-23.
  • Webb Ware JK, Vizard A, Lean GR. Effects of tail amputation and treatment with and albendazole controlled-release capsule on the health and productivity of prime lambs. Aust Vet J 2000;78:838–842.