Evaluating ethical lambing practices

Tail docking and castrating of ram lambs… is it ethical? Is it necessary?

Last year we decided to embark on an experiment in ethics and best practices. We decided that we would leave all lambs intact, which means that we did not castrate any of the boys, nor did we dock (cut off) tails.

lamb photo for webOne of the primitive traits of Jacob Sheep is their ability to still fully articulate their tails. Common modern farming technique requires the docking of tails, as lore suggests that many modern commercial breeds of sheep no longer have the ability to articulate their tails sufficiently to move it out of the way of feces and urine (which can lead to disease and infection). This is certainly not the case with Jacob Sheep, and after doing some investigating, we have arrived at the conclusion that it is unnecessary.

Removing appendages, such as the tail,  for “looks only” is not ethical care in our opinion. One of the reasons we began to question this practice in the first place was because we lost a lamb to anaphylactic shock after giving her the requisite anti-tetanus injection that is needed to keep them from getting tetanus in their tail when you band them. We watched a perfectly healthy lamb die within minutes in horrible agony and convulsions due to a shot we had given her so that we could perform an unnecessary procedure on her. Was this typical? Obviously, no. Does it happen? Yes. In fact, that same year another breeder friend of ours had a similar experience in two of his lambs.

In 2013 we raised all of our lambs without incident with tails fully intact. They thrived and we did not have any increased incidents of fly strike, infections, or otherwise. They were able to articulate their tails as needed for their bodily functions, and the ewes bred without any trouble. Breeders in some areas of the country have been leaving tails intact for quite some time, so this is not a new idea. We are simply reinforcing the idea that docking is purely an aesthetic choice, and here at Fat Toaster Farm we aren’t in the business of chopping off animal appendages in order to gain style points.

As for castrating, we have not castrated ram lambs since we began our farm in 2009, and the meat lambs taste mild and indistinguishable. As foodies the quality and flavor of our food is very important. We eat the sheep we raise, and so we want the best tasting meat. Castration can be extremely painful for the lamb (if you see them writhing in pain, you realize that yes, they do feel it — there is no way to explain that away and remain honest with yourself). Castration can also open an opportunity for infection, fly strike (trust me, you don’t want to mess with this), increased care, and sometimes death due to aforementioned complications. Again, if there is no practical gain, there is no reason to perform unnecessary surgical processes. Less work for us, less pain for the lambs, and the meat is fine both ways. Win/win.

Overall we encourage breeders to consider the implications of our findings. For one, it is significantly less work for the shepherd when you don’t need to catch every single lamb yet another time to band their tails or castrate. It is one or two less shots that you must catch them to give (and less risk of anaphylaxis). Certainly it is best for the critters this way also, as they endure less pain, enjoy a higher quality of life, and you don’t have to listen to their cries of pain. Again, win/win.

Happy lambing!

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