Establish Minimum Length for Sheep Tail DockingBy Frank Priestley, Idaho Farm Bureau President
The Idaho Farm Bureau supports the ethical treatment of farm animals. In carrying out this policy statement we find it important to bring sheep tail docking length to the attention of sheep breeders, buyers of sheep for show purposes, and judges of various county fairs and 4-H competitions.
Docking or shortening of sheep tails is a widely used practice that prevents buildup of feces which can result in fly strike, a serious condition that can result in livestock loss. It is not a serious issue for range-raised sheep grown for meat production. However, over the past several years the practice of entirely removing the tail has become prevalent in 4-H competition and at county fairs around the state. Tail removal can provide a competitive advantage in the show ring because it provides the appearance of a more level rump and a fuller, squarer leg. However, studies conducted cooperatively by state extension experts in Colorado, West Virginia, Texas, Arizona, Maryland and several other states have proven a connection between extreme tail docking and rectal prolapse, which normally results in death and is unacceptable for the health and welfare of sheep.
This fact is alarming and we advise anyone considering purchasing a show lamb this spring to note the tail length. The scientific standard for tail docking is at distal end of the caudal tail fold. An extension agent or any knowledgeable sheep breeder can show you what this means or as a rule of thumb the tail should be docked so that when pressed down it covers the entire vulva.
At least five states have passed mandatory regulations requiring specific tail length for sheep that are entered into 4-H or county fair competitions.
In a letter to the National 4-H Program Leader and signed by the American Veterinary
Medical Association, the American Sheep Industry, the American Farm Bureau, and the
United States Animal Health Association, concerns were expressed about extreme tail docking, recognizing that docking sheep tails is desirable when used for hygienic purposes and to minimize fly strike.
We believe that adopting this rule will promote uniformity and improve the health and welfare of show sheep across the country.