Breeding shorter tails worth effort

Lambs on a conveyor on sheep and beef farm in Avalon in West Otago. Photo: Shawn McAvinue
Lambs on a conveyor on sheep and beef farm in Avalon in West Otago. Photo: Shawn McAvinue
Ditching docking is possible but it takes more than two shakes of lamb’s tail, a West Otago farmer says.

Lambs have been rolling along a conveyor at Avalon, an 800ha organic sheep and beef property, about 7km north of Heriot.

On each side of the conveyor, a team gave the 5500 lambs a dose of mineral drench and an earmark to show its gender.

The ram lambs got a rubber ring on their testicles.

For the third consecutive season, no lambs were docked.

"It’s a no-brainer," Avalon owner Allan Richardson said.

"We are the only ones doing it on a large scale."

About a decade ago, he began selecting sheep with shorter tails.

"We are the first stud in the world that started objectively measuring tail length."

Sheep were also being selected on the bareness of the wool on its tail.

Drenching, earmarking and castrating lambs on sheep and beef farm Avalon in West Otago are (from...
Drenching, earmarking and castrating lambs on sheep and beef farm Avalon in West Otago are (from left) tractor driver Andrew Simpson, of Tapanui, student Joe Robertson, of Waikoikoi, and shepherd Cameron Morris, of Heriot. PHOTOS: SHAUN MCAVINUE

The sheep were all the Ultimate breed — a Texel-Perendale cross.

 

He was selecting sheep to breed a true low-input sheep which required no docking and less drenching and dagging.

His rams had performed well in the Beef+Lamb New Zealand Genetics’ low input sheep progeny trial.

Breeding a low-input sheep helped curb some of the current challenges of farming.

"We are struggling to find labour so if we can cut out docking and a large part of our drenching and dagging, it makes sense."

The "ultimate goal" was to send terminal sheep to the meatworks with no prior inputs.

"You won’t need to put them through the yards at all — just load them on the truck — that goal is achievable."

Sheep had been selected for dag score and worm resistance for more than 30 years, which produced a cleaner flock.

"We are the number one ranked flock for dag score in New Zealand."

Avalon owner Allan Richardson has stopped docking lambs on his organic sheep and beef farm in...
Avalon owner Allan Richardson has stopped docking lambs on his organic sheep and beef farm in West Otago.
Breeders should select for dag score or else they were passing on the cost of dagging to their clients, he said.

Challenging weather conditions this year had put the flock under pressure.

A dry autumn has stunted pasture growth, followed by a "tough, cold and wet" winter.

As a result, the flock was looking dirtier than it they ever had at this time of year.

Spring weather had been more favourable this year, featuring less snow than the past three springs, which was a nice change.

"It’s not much fun starting behind all the time."

Grass growth was "humming" now.

"It’s a great feeling because we need to put weight on stock."

The flock was also being selected to breed a sheep bare of wool on its belly and backside.

"The odd shearer will complain about the long tail but they never complain about the bare belly."

The flock was also being selected to breed a sheep bare of wool on its belly and backside. Photo: Shawn McAvinue
The flock was also being selected to breed a sheep bare of wool on its belly and backside. Photo: Shawn McAvinue

About 30% of lambs and between 20% and 30% ewes required a "quick clean-up" before shearing.

A new Government rule which came into effect this year states a sheep’s tail must not be docked any shorter than the distal end of the caudal fold.

Rather than getting upset about the rule, farmers should be investigating introducing genetics to the flock to produce cleaner sheep, which do need to be docked.

"It does work."

Most of the New Zealand flock was not suitable to leave the tail on due to its expressed daggy tail genetics.

He believed animal welfare rules would continue to tighten, responding to the market.

"Some of it will be misfounded but we need to recognise the consumer has some power and the industry needs to future-proof."

Ministry for Primary Industries animal welfare regional manager and NAIT compliance Southland Murray Pridham said as of November 29, no fines had been issued in Otago and Southland for breaching the new tail docking rules.

Ministry veterinarians at meat processing plants would be reporting cases where lambs sent for processing had tails docked incorrectly.

"We continue to work with farmers to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities."

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