Preliminary findings of research into tail docking by
Alliance Group have found that leaving a lamb's tail longer
or intact has no long-term beneficial or detrimental effect
on its growth rate.
The southern-based company has just completed the first year
of a three-year study.
Tail docking is common practice among New Zealand farmers. It
is thought to help reduce dag formation and the risk of fly
strike, a major cost to the sheep industry. However, to date
there has been little objective information or research on
the benefits, or otherwise, of the practice.
The research, involving a nationwide farmer survey and field
trials in Southland, Canterbury and Manawatu, was supported
by the Ministry for Primary Industries' sustainable farming
fund, UK supermarket Sainsbury's and Beef and Lamb New
Early findings suggested that tail length has no effect on
time spent on-farm or on productive traits such as carcass
weight. However, longer and intact tails increased the level
of dag accumulation, and consequently took more time to
The link between tail length, dags and fly strike remained
inconclusive, so further data would be collected in the
remaining two years of the study.
The study suggested that leaving the tail longer or intact
could have a positive effect on total meat yield. However,
that was inconclusive as it was not consistent across breed
and sex of the lamb, and further research is to be
Alliance Group's livestock general manager Murray Behrent
believed the first year of the trial had been successful.
''There is currently a lack of scientific information
addressing the productive, economic and welfare aspects of
docking lamb tails. This situation leaves New Zealand farmers
vulnerable to any concerns from international markets in
regards to the actual length of tails docked.
''It is therefore important that any welfare issues that
concern consumers and have the potential to become barriers
in our international markets are addressed so that we can
respond on a scientific basis with available trial data,'' Mr
The study was important to support the image of New Zealand
product in key markets, he said.
Evaluation of the economic benefit and/or the cost to the
farmer of leaving the tail longer, or intact, would be part
of the remaining two years of the study.
Alliance Group and its research partner, Dunedin-based
AbacusBio have been working with sheep farmers and tailing
and shearing contractors as part of the study.
The company will conduct an online survey of sheep farmers in
August in an effort to understand the prevalence of the
different docking practices and gain an insight into docking
decisions made by farmers.
As part of the research, a best practice booklet on tail
docking will also be developed and distributed to suppliers