Takes stand on lamb tail docking

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Without debate, the House of Delegates approved Resolution 1, a position statement on the tail docking of lambs, submitted by the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners. The Executive Board (in June) recommended approval of the resolution, as did the House Advisory Committee and Reference Committee 2.

The newly adopted 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, AASRP executive director and alternate delegate to the HOD, had told AVMA news staff, "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]. Therefore, docking lambs' tails to the proper length is necessary.

Commercial lamb producers use the caudal tail fold as the standard measurement for tail docking. The cosmetic tail dock, however, typically is shorter than the caudal tail fold, and has even evolved to the point of surgical removal of caudal vertebrae, often resulting in the loss of innervation to the rectum and anal sphincter that comes from sacral vertebra 3 to caudal vertebra 5, predisposing lambs to rectal prolapse.

According to the AASRP, rectal prolapse can occur in feedlot lambs for a number of reasons, but is also becoming a problem in fair and show lambs. The condition is painful, and repair is unprofitable, so many animals with rectal prolapse die or are prematurely culled for meat. Dr. McCrystle said, "Our association is extremely happy the House of Delegates was so receptive to a positive statement on lamb tail docking."

In 1999, the US Animal Health Association passed a resolution recommending that sheep tails 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.