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How to castrate and tail a lamb

Written by Cathryn

First of all why do we do this?

We keep lambs and eat them as hoggett and mutton and therefore cannot keep them as intact rams along side the main flock of ewes. The debate about tail docking is less clear and I am currently trying to gather information on this, maybe for a future article. We currently do dock the tails of all our lambs.

The way to learn castration and tail docking is to be shown by someone who knows what they are doing! This is just a reminder and describes how we do it.

We donít castrate the March born lambs. It isnít necessary but we do need to do this with the May born flock who are allowed to grow slowly over a much longer time.

Both castration and tail docking should be done once the lamb has dried off and had a good belly full of motherís milk. We do this within a few hours of birth. They get a bit too fast to catch after this!

Itís all about practice and technique. At first I found teamwork helpful, one to catch and hold the lambs and the other to apply the rings.

I will assume you are doing this out in the fields. So first catch your lambs! It is important to do this as quietly as possible ensuring that the ewe can always see them and remains near to them. If you are handling twins, donít do one and then release it as there is a risk that the mother will go off with just that one. Then you will spend time trying to persuade her that she did have two and that she does love them both.

I find it easiest to hold the lamb on its back with its bottom resting across my leg while leaning against something (I usually sit on the quad seat). Make sure that you already have a rubber castrating ring on the castrating tool and that you have plenty of others with you (Ďcos they tend to ping off)! Open the rubber ring by opening the grips and place over the scrotal sac. Be gentle as you do this and make sure that both testes are down in the sac. You must be able to feel them. The ring should fit snugly at the base of the scrotum against the stomach. Do not release the grip until you are sure and you have checked that you have not pinched a nipple or skin in the ring as well.

Do not be worried when the lamb lies there for a while. (Try not to empathise!) Also try to block the mother from wandering off with one twin while the other is lying down.

If we cannot feel both testicles then we do not put a ring on and, so that we can recognise this lamb again, we donít put a tail ring on.

Next, using the same tool, put on a tail ring. This should be placed below the ďVĒ of skin under the tail and needs to be left long enough to cover the vulva or the anus.

There are laws which cover these procedures

Under the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1954, as amended, it is an offence to castrate lambs which have reached three months of age without the use of an anaesthetic. Furthermore, the use of a rubber ring, or other device, to restrict the flow of blood to the scrotum or tail, is only permitted without an anaesthetic if the device is applied during the first week of life. Under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, as amended, only a veterinary surgeon may castrate a lamb which has reached the age of three months.

The Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) Regulations 1982 (S.I. 1982 No. 1884), as amended by the Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) (Amendment) Regulations 1987 (S.I. 1987 No. 114) prohibit penis amputation and other penile operations, tooth grinding, freeze dagging and short-tail docking of sheep unless sufficient tail is retained to cover the vulva in the case of female sheep and the anus in the case of male sheep.