Tail docking, how short is too short?

November 14, 2001

By Connie Holgate

County fairs and stock shows throughout the state of Utah have been completed for the calendar year of 2001, but lambs that will be raised, shown and marketed for next year's (2002) 4-H and FFA projects are now being born. Producers who sell lambs to youth for 4-H and FFA projects need to be aware of the length of the tail dock when docking lambs this season.

The present docking rule in the "Official State Rule" book reads: Market lambs must be docked such that the tail (dock) can be lifted. The measuring technique will be: using a 5/16 inch diameter wooden dowel or pencil held horizontally to the hind quarters and immediately below the dock, gently follow the contour of the hind quarters, without pushing in on the skin or quarters, up the dock. If the pencil can catch or lift the dock or tail, it is long enough to qualify. Dock (tail) length determination will be made during the weigh-in at the individual shows. (Please recognize that conditions change as the lamb grows wool, matures and finishes and what may qualify as a young lamb may not qualify at show time. The best recommendation is to leave a little tail at docking time.)

The state 4-H office received a letter from the national 4-H office noting that they do not set policies regarding the exhibition of 4-H livestock but have received numerous complaints regarding extreme tail docking in sheep and have referred them back to their state office. The letter reads as follows:

The signatories that follow are concerned about extreme tail docking, which is becoming more common among show sheep. We recognize that docking of sheep tails is desirable when used for hygienic purposes and to minimize fly strike; however, extreme tail docking can increase the incidence of rectal prolapse and is unacceptable for the health and welfare of the sheep. We ask that you adopt the following rule for exhibited sheep. Animals born after Jan. 1, 2002, will be accepted for exhibition only if tails are not docked shorter than the level of the distal end of the caudal fold. We believe that adopting this rule will promote uniformity and improve the health and welfare of show sheep across the country.

American Veterinary Medical Association, American Sheep Industry, American Farm Bureau Federation and United States Animal Health Association.

At the 2001 Uintah Basin Junior Livestock Show, animals were sifted because of too short of tail dock. To avoid tears and the heartbreak of an animal being sifted from the show, the Uintah County 4-H Extension Office suggests docking at the distal end of the caudal fold as recommended above. The state Association of Livestock Shows committee will be reviewing this issue at their annual board meeting held in late November. The "pencil lift rule" is still the official rule at the time of this publication; however, if project leaders and parents want to be safe rather than sorry, dock at the distal end of the caudal fold or purchase a lamb that has been so docked. If breeders have questions about locating the distal end of the caudal fold they may contact Boyd Kitchen or Connie Holgate at the County Extension Office, 781-5452.

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