In 1999, the AVMA House of Delegates took a stand on tail docking of dogs. The 2000 HOD will be asked to consider Resolution 1, submitted by the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, a proposed position statement on the tail docking of lambs. At press time in May, the Executive Board was scheduled to review the resolution in June and could recommend approval or disapproval of the position to the HOD.
The proposed position states:
Lambs are tail docked for cleanliness and to minimize fly strike, but cosmetic, excessively short tail docking can lead to an increased incidence of rectal prolapses and is unacceptable for the welfare of the lamb. We recommend that lambs' tails be docked at the level of the distal end of the caudal tail fold.
Dr. David L. McCrystle, AVMA alternate delegate to the AASRP, said, "I don't think it's a coincidence that this resolution is coming before the House a year after the position on cropping and docking of dogs' tails passed. The AVMA is stepping up to the plate for animal welfare. Veterinarians should be proactive."
According to the AASRP, long-tailed lambs accumulate manure and urine in their wool, which predisposes them to fly-strike and sometimes death [from infection].
As a standard, commercial producers use a cosmetic tail dock that is shorter than the caudal tail fold. The AASRP resolution states that the cosmetic dock has evolved to surgical removal of caudal vertebrae, often resulting in the loss of innervation to the rectum and anal sphincter from sacral vertebra 3 to caudal vertebra 5, predisposing the lamb to rectal prolapse.
According to the AASRP, rectal prolapse is seen in feedlots, but also is a problem in fair and show lambs. Repair is unprofitable, and painful for the animal. Many animals with rectal prolapse die or are prematurely culled for meat.
"We're seeing this most in show lambs, rather than commercial lambs," Dr. McCrystle said. "Why do we show sheep? To show the public what we do as an industry. For the public to see sheep with rectal prolapse is not what we want to show."
The AASRP mentioned a study in Minnesota that found an eight percent prolapse rate in 288 lambs with a short dock — less than half an inch at one day of age — versus zero percent in a similar group of 288 lambs in the same environment with long tail docks - more than three inches.
"The issue is not simply about short tail docking. Genetics is an important factor. Commercial breeders attempt to cull sheep with rectal prolapse from their flocks by checking the bloodlines of the animals," Dr. McCrystle said. "This is not always the case with exhibition animals. Exhibitors should be encouraged to focus on what's best for the animal, not on winnings. If, however, the lamb suffers from parasites or is not from a good genetic background, it will still have problems."
In 1999 the US Animal Health Association passed a resolution recommending that sheep tails should not be docked shorter than the level of the caudal tail fold. The National Lamb Feeders resolved to support standards for tail length on fair and show lambs. The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have tail length rules.