Tail length

Docking the tail to the correct length at lamb marking time is crucial in minimising stain around the breech and reducing flystrike risk throughout the sheep’s life.

The recommendation is to dock the tail immediately below the third palpable joint or to the tip of the vulva in ewes.

This tail length allows the sheep to lift its tail and channel urine and faeces away from the breech area. It also reduces the risk of cancers from exposure of soft tissue to the sun.

Download the Kondinin Group article on correct tail length below.

DownloadKondinin Group article on correct tail length (809 KB)

Download the report: 

Tail length in unmulesed Australian Merino sheep
Report for Australian Wool Innovation, December 2012

Tail Docking

Tail removal methods

Tails are generally removed in one of three ways:

  • lamb marking knife
  • docking iron (also alled a hot knife)
  • elastrator rings

The following is an extract from NSW DPI Standard Operating Procedures for Lamb Marking

  1. When using the lamb-marking knife it is important that the bare skin beneath the tail is pushed forward just prior to severance, leaving a flap of skin to heal over the bottom of the cut tail. Any other action is likely to leave wool-bearing skin at the base of the tail, which, on becoming wet from urine, risks blowfly strike. Severance should occur between the tail joints. Cutting through the bone tends to result in slower healing and so a greater risk of fly strike.
  2. A gas-heated de-tailer may be used. The heat cauterises the blood vessels, which virtually eliminates bleeding. There appears to be less stress associated with the operation, as lambs show normal behavioural patterns earlier.
  3. Elastrator Rings are stretched and applied to the tail with the elastrator pliers. The tail withers and falls off about three weeks later. The area is generally attractive to flies for longer than if the knife is used, because of slower healing.

Docking irons 

If you have not used a docking iron, and are considering investing in one, note that they require some skill. Feedback from one Qld Sheep Extension Officer, who saw them in use on many properties was that they did a very good job when in good hands, but that he generally did not recommend them because many people couldn't operate them well and caused burns on the tail stump, rather than a clean cut, and this slowed recovery time and increased the chance of flystrike on the burn wound.

Also, a sheep veterinarian in Victoria has remarked that all docking irons are not equal. There are a number of brands available (three are shown below), each with their pros and cons.

When making your choice, consider these characterists:

  • Cost: there is a significant difference between some of the different types.
  • Weight: a heavy iron will fatigue the operator, resulting in poorer results. It may need to be used with two hands by some people.
  • Blade shape: concave edge may not sear the tail effectively.
  • Hose fitting position: may be in a more  difficult position.
  • Sturdiness: how well do both the fixed and moving parts stand up to wear and tear.
  • Heat retention: the ability of the blade materials to hold the required heat.

Primus Lamb Docking Iron

Leader Products Lamb Docking Iron

Te Pari Patesco Docking Iron