Study into docking of lambs' tails

Alliance Group is launching two research trials in a bid to understand the effect on lambs when docking their tails at different lengths.

Docking, a common practice among New Zealand farmers, was thought to help reduce dag formation and the risk of fly strike, a major cost to the sheep industry.

However, there was limited objective information or research on the benefits, or otherwise, of the practice, the meat company said.

Alliance Group, with support from the Ministry of Primary Industries' Sustainable Farming Fund, UK supermarket chain Sainsbury's and Beef and Lamb New Zealand, is undertaking the first research of its kind into docking in New Zealand with a three-year trial.

The first trial, at the Riverton farm of Alliance supplier Euan Templeton, will examine the impact of different docking practices or no docking on lamb growth, carcass weight and yield.

The second trial, on two farms in Mid-Canterbury and Southland, will study the effect of different tail lengths on lamb productivity, economic return and the welfare of the lamb.

The aim of the research was to examine the productive, economic and welfare effects on lambs by docking tails at different lengths or leaving them intact, the company's livestock general manager, Murray Behrent, said.

The results should provide suppliers with reliable information so they could make informed decisions on the most appropriate docking strategy.

"The current lack of objective information leaves New Zealand farmers vulnerable to concerns from international markets on the length of the tail.

"International retailers are now requesting evidence-based information which can be used to assure their customers that management practice such as tail docking are justified," he said.

Alliance Group and research partner AbacusBio would work with tailing and shearing contractors as part of the trials.

As part of the research, a best practice booklet on docking would be developed and distributed to suppliers.

The initial results were expected to be released in April next year, and final results of the two trials to be published in March 2014.