Study finds dock­ing in­ef­fec­tive

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery -

Alamb that has been left un­docked will not grow any faster than a lamb that has been docked.

While many farm­ers might ar­gue oth­er­wise, pre­lim­i­nary find­ings into a tail dock­ing trial by the Al­liance Group has found that leav­ing a lamb’s tail in­tact has no ben­e­fi­cial or detri­men­tal ef­fect on its growth rate.

Al­liance Group live­stock man­ager Mur­ray Behrent said he was sur­prised by the re­sults.

‘‘I re­ally thought un­docked lambs would have faster growth rates be­cause there would be no check [at tail­ing time],’’ he said.

Al­liance has just com­pleted the first year of a three-year study into the ef­fects of tail dock­ing on lamb growth and the wel­fare ef­fects of the prac­tice.

Lambs were usu­ally docked three to four weeks af­ter birth with the aim of re­duc­ing dag for­ma­tion and the risk of fly strike.

The re­search looked at four dif­fer­ent tail lengths: flush (1cm); short (3 to 4cm) com­monly used in New Zealand; long (7 to 10cm) com­monly used in the United King­dom; and in­tact.

Leav­ing a tail long or in­tact sug­gested it would have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on to­tal meat yield, but the re­sults were in­con­clu­sive across breed and sex of the lamb, Mr Behrent said.

Farmer Euan Tem­ple­ton, who was in­volved in the study along with farm­ers in Can­ter­bury and Manawatu, said he was also sur­prised by the re­sults.

‘‘I’ve been leav­ing some of my lambs tails in­tact for a num­ber of years and I’ve been con­fi­dent I’ve been do­ing the right thing,’’ he said.

The study on Mr Tem­ple­ton’s farm in­volved dock­ing 300 sets of twins.

One twin’s tail was docked short at 3 to 4cm while the tail of the other twin was ei­ther left long (7 to 10 cm) or in­tact, but there was no dif­fer­ence in lamb growth at wean­ing.

‘‘I thought there was a week to 10 days’ check at tail­ing, but this trial proved that those lambs al­ways catch up,’’ he said.

Last sea­son Mr Tem­ple­ton docked only his re­place­ment ewe lambs and left his ram lambs and ter­mi­nal sire ewe lambs with their tails in­tact.

How­ever, he still man­aged to get 40 per cent of his lambs, all long tail­ers, away be­fore Christ­mas.

Mr Tem­ple­ton said he was un­likely to change his man­age­ment prac­tice be­cause his Texel-cross lambs pro­duced few dags.

‘‘I like crutch­ing them with a long tail.

‘‘It gives me some­thing to hang on to,’’ he said.

Mr Behrent said there was a lack of sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion on the pro­duc­tive, eco­nomic and wel­fare as­pects of dock­ing lamb tails.

‘‘This sit­u­a­tion leaves New Zealand farm­ers vul­ner­a­ble to any con­cerns from in­ter­na­tional mar­kets in re­gards to the ac­tual length of tails docked,’’ he said.

Eval­u­a­tion of the eco­nomic ben­e­fit and/or cost to the farmer of leav­ing the tail longer, or in­tact, will be part of the re­main­ing two years of the study.

‘‘Once com­plete, the re­search should pro­vide sup­pli­ers with re­li­able in­for­ma­tion in as­sess­ing the im­pact of their tail dock­ing prac­tices,’’ Mr Behrent said.

As part of the re­search, a best prac­tice book­let on tail dock­ing will be de­vel­oped and dis­trib­uted to Al­liance sup­pli­ers in 2015.

The tail dock­ing study was sup­ported by the Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries’ Sus­tain­able Farm­ing Fund, UK su­per­mar­ket Sains­bury’s and Beef + Lamb New Zealand. Fair­fax NZ

Close cut: The stan­dard New Zealand prac­tice has been to dock a lamb’s tail at 3 to 4cm.

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