Do Sheep Have a Tail? What you need to know!

Do sheep have tails? Most people will answer this question with an emphatic ‘no’. It seems reasonable to assume that most sheep do not have tails. To believe otherwise would be strange, wouldn’t it? But what if we told you the answer is yes? Correctly! Sheep are born with tails.

Well, almost all sheep have a tail. But some breeds are born with a “bobtail” or even no tail at all. Whether a sheep has a tail depends on the genes of the mother.

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Tail Docking Overview

A lamb’s tail is called a dock. It is slaughtered when the lamb is less than a day old. The handler will do this while holding the sheep in one hand and cutting off the tail with the other.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the reason they cut off their tails was to prevent fly attacks. This is a condition caused by flies laying eggs on sheep’s backs. They then hatch into larvae that feed on the sheep from the inside out. This can cause excruciating pain in the sheep. So, most of the farmers will remove it.

Now that you know that sheep have tails, why are they cut off when they are young?

corriedale sheep

Tail Docking Process and Purpose

Tail docking is a procedure performed on sheep and cattle. It refers to the process of cutting off part of the tail of an animal.

Usually, this procedure is performed on sheep immediately after their birth. But it can also be done on cows and pigs. In some cases, tail splicing is done for aesthetic reasons, such as preventing the tail from growing too long. Other times, it is done for hygienic reasons. This is a way to keep the animal clean and free of infection.

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Tail docking has been practiced for centuries. The earliest known examples occur in ancient Egypt and China. Today, it reduces the chances of animals contracting the infection or injuring themselves. In many countries around the world, tail docking is standard procedure in livestock.

mother lamb and baby

What Methods Are Used When Tail Docking?

There are several different tail docking methods practiced around the world. Here, we will discuss in detail the tail splicing method used in sheep according to Sheep101. This way, you will understand what happens during tail docking.

1. Using Rubber Ring

Rubber rings are the most humane method of sheep tail docking. They are used on smaller farms. A rubber ring is placed around the tail. This cuts off the blood supply and will kill the tail.

The time it takes for this to happen varies depending on the size of the sheep. It can take up to 3 weeks for a lamb with a small tail to lose all feeling in the tail. Larger lambs with thick tails can take between four and five weeks.

The rings used are made of high tensile strength rubber. The rubber ring method is easy and inexpensive. They are applied to the tail with pressure so that they grip tightly around the tail, usually two or three days after birth.

2. Clamping and Removal Operation

This is the most effective tail docking method. The clamp and surgical removal is performed by making an incision in the skin at the base of the tail. This allows docking to be completed quickly and painlessly. The wound is then bandaged with antibiotic ointment and covered with a bandage.

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The clamp and lift operation can take less than 10 seconds to perform. This technique is commonly used on sheep, although it was previously used on calves. This is also known as ‘short tail docking’.

young sheep in the grass

3. Tail Iron

This is a type of tail splicing that involves the use of solid metal rods. It is usually made of stainless steel and is used to cut the tail. In this method, the tail is held by a tool known as a crush. When its tail is cut off, it falls into the basin below where it is then collected and thrown away.

Tail iron is the oldest method used, dating back to the 16th century. The main reason why farmers use this method is because of safety measures.

This is easy to use and usually the most cost-effective method. But sheep are known to squirm when their tails are tethered. That can make this process more difficult. Also, this means you have to be careful when assembling this lamb as you don’t want to cut it too short or too long.

Are There Sheep Born Without a Tail?

All sheep are born with a tail. It’s just that the tail is so short you can’t see it. This is called a fat tail. By the time the lamb is six weeks old, its tail has grown to about 10 cm. The tail is then cut close to the body.

Lamb’s tailbone is made of cartilage. This is like how our nose was before it was fully developed. The sheep’s tailbone is attached to the back ligaments which will wither after the tail is removed. This causes the tail to fall in a lump or one solid piece.

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two young sheep in the grass

How Long Does a Lamb’s Tail Fall?

The process of removing the tail of the lamb can take between one to two weeks. The length of time it takes depends on the age and breed of the sheep.

Usually, the docking is interrupted when the sheep are between two and four days old. When this happens, the tail falls off more quickly in younger animals.

However, in older sheep approaching adulthood, it can take up to four weeks for the tail to fall off. That’s because older sheep have thicker skin so it takes more time to heal. It’s usually more painful for them.

sheep run from predators

Do Wild Sheep Have Long Tails?

Yes, a lamb’s tail is relative to its body size. Wild sheep have a longer tail than domestic sheep. But the difference is minimal. Typically, the tail of a domestic lamb is between 40 and 50 cm (about 16 inches), and the tail of a wild sheep is between 70 and 90 cm (about 28-36 inches).

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Sheep have a tail, and like other animals, it is used for balance when walking and to repel flies. They can also use their tails to communicate with other sheep in the flock.

However, the tail does not help the sheep as they grow. Because lamb’s tail can cause infection. This infection can make the sheep’s health worse. So, it is advisable to cut the lamb’s tail at an early age to prevent this.

Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

Do Sheep Have a Tail? What you need to know!
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