Youth programs announce new policy for lamb projects
Contact: Jean Woloshuk, 4-H Youth Agriculture Specialist, WVU Extension Service, (304) 293-6131 x
The ethical treatment of animals and the elimination of unethical practices in the show ring are important to youth programs in agriculture. The West Virginia 4-H Program and the West Virginia Association of Agricultural Educators Program Policy Committee of the FFA have discussed the practice of extreme or ultra-short docking of lambs' tails. This practice has been shown to contribute to an increased incidence of rectal prolapse, especially in lambs on finishing rations. After
extensive study of the matter, these organizations have adopted a policy. The policy stated for the youth sheep projects (both breeding sheep and market lambs) and for exhibition of animals by youth at fairs and shows in West Virginia is:
"Lambs born after January 1, 2002 will be accepted for exhibition only if tails are not docked shorter
than the level of the distal end of the caudal tail fold. Officials at the show or fair will enforce the rule by
checking any lambs in question for the ability to grasp and lift the tail."
Extreme tail docking and other unethical show ring practices, and the ramifications to youth programs, were identified in a 2000 master's thesis at West Virginia University entitled "Unethical Practices In Exhibiting Animals As Observed By West Virginia Extension Agents and High School Agriculture Teachers," by Jared Nestor. Evidence of the negative effect of extreme tail docking was presented by Keith Inskeep, a professor of animal and veterinary sciences in WVU's Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Consumer Sciences, from data collected in 2000 from five university experiment stations (Iowa, Ohio-Columbus, Ohio-Wooster, Texas, and Wisconsin).
These studies, coordinated by David Thomas of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, involved several breeds and crosses, and significant differences were observed. Lambs docked at the terminus of the caudal tail fold, as recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the United States Animal Health Association (n = 216 at three of the stations), had only a 1.9% incidence of rectal prolapse. Lambs docked midway between that point and attachment of the tail to the body (n = 300 at three stations) had an incidence of prolapse of 4.7%. Lambs docked at the attachment of the tail to the body (n = 416 at five stations) had an incidence of 9.1%. Most of the lambs were finished on high-energy diets, typical of those for show ring lambs. In contrast, in one group of about 100 lambs finished on pasture, no prolapses were observed, regardless of tail length.
In an earlier study conducted by Harvey Windels and presented at the 1990 Minnesota Sheep and Lamb Feeders' Day, short (1/2 inch) versus long (3 inch) docks were compared in ¾ Suffolk, 1/8 Finn, 1/8 Targhee lambs on a high-energy, completely-mixed diet. Over a two-year period, rectal prolapse was observed in 23/288 short-docked lambs (8%), compared to 1/288 long-docked lambs. Year-to-year differences were observed; in 1998, only 2 lambs prolapsed, but in 1989, 21 lambs prolapsed.
Sheep producers and youth show officials in three states, California, Wyoming, and Washington, have already taken action to limit how short a show lamb's tail can be. The Maryland 4-H program is set to adopt the California rule that the lamb must have enough tail that it can be lifted. The data clearly support a change in youth project and show rules. As organizations that promote educational programming with life skills attainment, it is prudent to exemplify ethical treatment of animals and utilize quality management practices. Please notify all youth with sheep projects, producers, fair officials, and others who may affected by this policy.
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