News & Advice

Docking – Gold Standard Practice

Sep 3, 2020 | Dry stock, Sheep

Tail docking and castration are classed as painful husbandry procedures- necessary for a variety of reasons but they can cause significant anxiety, fear, discomfort, pain or distress. We have a responsibility to recognise this and minimise it- for their welfare but also to prevent production losses.

Signs of pain in lambs and calves can include:

  • Inactivity
  • Abnormal postures or gaits
  • Restlessness
  • change in patterns of activity; time lying down, walking, ruminating etc
  • tail shaking, ear rubbing, foot stamping, kicking, rolling, tremors, vocalizing, rubbing/licking the affected part
  • Aggression to other animals or humans
  • Effort to get away from source of pain


To minimise pain and distress:

  • Ensure related activities before and after eg. mustering are as humane as possible
  • Minimal duration of procedure
  • Carrying it out at an age and/or state that means harmful responses or risk of complications is least
  • Avoid critical periods eg. During bonding of dam and newborn
  • Using hygienic methods and those that minimise blood loss
  • Undertaking multiple procedures at the same time
  • Provision of post-operative care- shelter, food etc
  • Use a local anaesthetic to block pain during the procedure- this is a legal requirement if the animal is over 6 months of age
  • Use an analgesic to relieve pain after the procedure


Most importantly:

  • Use the least painful method – Conventional rubber rings over high tensile bands or surgery

If your ewes were not vaccinated with 5in1 prelambing, remember lambs will need lamb-vax at docking to prevent tetanus. If you are carrying out these procedures, you should be familiar with the Painful husbandry procedures Code of welfare. This can be found at:


Reminder: Docking regulations changed on 9th May 2020

Docking of lambs under 6 months of age is allowed to be carried out by non-veterinarians. Docking is a painful procedure for the lamb,  it is carried out for cleanliness and to reduce the risk of flystrike. You may only use a hot iron or a rubber ring. Animals over six months of age can only be docked by a veterinarian. 

The tail length must be no shorter than the end of the caudal fold which is the bare skin on the underneath of the tail (descends in a “V” from the top of the tail). This means the vulva in ewes is covered by the remaining tail and is a similar length in rams.


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