SALEM, Ohio – How short is too short?
Sheep producers have always debated tail docking, but a movement toward establishing a length standard is gaining ground in several states, including Ohio.
All sheep exhibited at the 2002 Ohio State Fair will be examined by a committee consisting of fair and Ohio State University personnel, and sheep producers, to gather data on appropriate tail docking lengths.
“Our big thing is that we want to gather information this year that will allow us to make an informed decision down the road,” said Jim Chakeres, executive director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association.
Exhibitors with docks that are determined to be too short will be notified that lambs with similar docks will not be eligible for competition at future state fair shows.
Sheep producers and youth show officials in four states – California, Wyoming, Washington and West Virginia – have already taken action to limit how short a show lamb’s tail can be.
A draft tail docking protocol was developed with input from the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, The Ohio State University, Ohio Club Lamb Association, Ohio State Fair Market Lamb Committee, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and sheep producers throughout the state.
b> No standard.< “Right now, the plan is a proactive approach to the issue,” Chakeres said.
All sheep shown will be examined “to gather facts and figures and see how many really short tails there are that could become a problem,” he said.
“Tails are docked differently for each breed, because what looks good on one doesn’t look good on another,” Chakeres said. “In the past few years, it was in vogue to go for the shorter tail, but now we’re seeing more moderate lengths” at Ohio shows.
The proposal aims to determine acceptable tail lengths by examination, Chakeres said. From that point, officials from the organizations will analyze data to determine a standard.
Recommendations. Tail docking is a routine practice on most sheep farms. A lamb’s tail is docked within two weeks of its birth to prevent health problems as it matures, including the avoidance of fecal accumulation which leads to fly strike, Chakeres said.
But limited research shows an increased rate of rectal prolapse as a result of shorter tail docking. Lambs docked at the caudal fold had only a 1.9 percent incidence of rectal prolapse in the study, while lambs docked midway between the fold and the point of attachment to the body had an incidence of 4.7 percent; those docked at the body had an incidence of 9.1 percent. The research does not consider genetic and environmental factors.
All groups involved are opposed to ultra-short, surgical tail docking that involves the removal of vertebrae above the pin bones.
Uncertainty. The United States Animal Health Association supports a tail length resulting from the docking of lambs at the caudal tail fold. Other groups cite the distal end of the caudal fold. A major concern is that the caudal folds vary by breed of sheep and individuals within breeds.
Another recommendation is to leave a certain number of vertebrae in the tail.
Varying growth patterns between breeds and even among animals of the same breed can result in different tail lengths as the animals finish, which has raised several questions among producers. Breeders with multiple breeds say each must be docked differently at birth in order to have similar docks when the lambs reach 6 months of age, Chakeres said.
“At this point, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of challenges for us to face,” he said.
Challenges. “Ohio has a strong sheep market, and certain regulations could hurt our business,” Chakeres said, noting other states’ show requirements could eliminate Ohio-bred lambs from those show rings, as well as eliminating other states’ animals from Ohio shows.
In 2000, USDA statistics ranked Ohio 16th in total sheep and lamb numbers with 134,000 head, and fourth among all states in the number of sheep operations, with 3,700.
“There is a lot of contradiction, and no set rule. After state fair, and if there are several lambs brought in and the committee decides something needs done, then we’ll start” to form regulations, Chakeres said.
(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)