Best Practice Lamb Marking

Key Points

  • Hygiene is extremely important
  • Dock tails to the third palpable joint 
  • Vaccinate against common diseases

At lamb marking, using best practice guidelines, particularly when it comes to tail length, will have the best outcome for the lamb.

Lambs should be marked between 2-12 weeks of age which can be difficult to achieve in a mob that has an extended lambing period. Lambs that are marked less than 24 hours old have not had a long enough to mother up properly and lambs that are older than 6 months require anesthetic for mulesing and castration to be carried out. If castration is carried out using a knife make sure the knife is kept clean and sharp.

There are three acceptable methods of tail docking without anaesthesia which are cutting with a sharp knife, rubber rings or a gas flame heated searing iron or gas knife. There are two types of gas knives available to producers in Australia, the standard knife or the rotating anvil knife (or also known as the Te Pari knife). Both knives create a similar wound but the Te Pari knife stretches the wooly skin prior to cutting which results in bare areas on the dorsal of the tail and the tip of the tail. This leaves a greater bare area, where the wool would normally grow and be at risk of urine stain and dags.

When using a gas knife the temperature of the knife will have an impact. If the knife is too cold it will not cut through the tail in one motion and if the knife is too hot then the tail will be cut too quickly and not cauterise the tip of the tail, which can increase the amount of blood loss. On windy days a wind block may be required to help maintain the gas knife temperature.

Tail docking length is extremely important and often much debated amongst producers. Docking the tail too short can result in future problems by creating additional work for you and resulting in a poorer outcome for the sheep. A sheep uses its tail to deflect faeces, and in ewes urine away from its body which it can only do if the tail is left long enough. If the sheep is unable to do this, then the risk of flystrike to that sheep is increased significantly. Tails docked longer than the tip of the vulva or the third joint are more difficult to shear and crutch and are more susceptible to staining, dags and therefore flystrike.

Tails that are docked too short can result in other problems such as increased vulva cancers in ewes, increased rectal prolapse due to damage of the muscle and nerves around the anus, and there is some evidence to suggest that there may be increased vaginal prolapse as well. If you are buying young sheep be aware of buying sheep with the tails docked too short as you potentially could be purchasing in problems. To achieve ideal tail length lambs should be docked at the third palpable joint or to the tip of the vulva in ewe lambs.

Lambs should be vaccinated with at least a 3 in 1 or 6 in 1 vaccine. Lambs need to be protected against common problems including pulpy kidney (enterotoxaemia), cheesy gland and tetanus which 3 in 1 will cover. The marking vaccination will only give protection for 4-6 weeks so a second injection is needed; weaning is a good time for this second vaccination. An annual booster is required each year and ideally for breeding ewes should be given 1 month prior to lambing to help provide immunity to the lamb. If lambs are to enter a high risk situation that predisposes them to pulp kidney, such as grain feeding or lush pastures, then a booster should be given 2 weeks before exposure. Ear tags, ear marks or NLIS ear tags should be applied as per your farm management.

For further details contact your Livestock consultant or veterinarian.