Take care when docking to stay within law

Farmers must take care when tail docking lambs this season to ensure they are not in breach of the law.

Proper tail docking of sheep is a vital tool in minimising the risk of sheep being affected by the painful and distressing condition known as fly strike, but it is important the long-standing rules around tail docking are adhered to, said NFU Scotland policy manager, Penny Johnston.

“The rules state the tail of a female sheep must cover the vulva and the tail of a male sheep must cover the anus. Tails shorter than these lengths will be considered to have been docked too short and enforcement action could be taken,” she says.

Every year inspectors reprimand a minority of sheep producers for failing to comply with the standards for docking lambs’ tails and making the tail too short. Some of these compliance failures are picked up during farm inspections, but the majority of cases tend to be discovered at shows.

Inspecting officers are encouraged to use their judgement in deciding the appropriate course of action on discovery of a short-docked tail and it is likely the focus of their attention this year will be on the most recent lamb crop. This year’s lambs are clearly the best indicators of current practice on the farm, so it seems right they receive the greatest focus.

“It must be remembered though that the rules and guidance on the docking of sheep tails have been in place, unchanged, for nearly a quarter of a century, so action against older sheep cannot be ruled out completely. We have approached the enforcement agency, Animal Health, and asked for proportionality, especially when it comes to looking at the historic flock.”

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