Best practice marking of lambs

Page last updated: Tuesday, 3 August 2021 - 7:36am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Castration and tail docking

Castration should be performed on lambs as early as management practices will allow, preferably before 12 weeks of age. Pain relief should be used for castration and tail docking. Registered pain relief options are available in Tables 1 and 2.

Current methods of castration include:

  • Rubber rings applied according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Cutting. The lambs should be properly restrained and the knife must be kept clean and sharp.

Tail docking of lambs is recommended for blowfly control under the Code of Practice for Sheep in Western Australia, 2003 (COP – Sheep). Acceptable methods of tail docking include: rubber rings applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendation, a gas flame-heated searing iron (‘gas knife’) used according to the manufacturer’s recommendations or cutting with a sharp knife.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) recommends that producers use rubber rings or a gas knife when tail docking. The gas knife method is generally preferable for tail docking on lambs that are also mulesed. If using a gas knife when the weather is windy, a wind block can be used to maintain the knife at optimum temperature. A knife that is too cold will not cut through the tail in one motion. A knife that is too hot will cut through the tail too quickly and not cauterise the tail tip and increase blood loss.

A wind block may be useful in maintain the gas knife at optimum temperature.
A wind block may be useful in maintain the gas knife at optimum temperature.

There are two types of gas knives available to producers in Australia, a standard knife and a rotating anvil knife (known as the Te Pari Patesco knife®). Both knives cause similar wounds and work in the same way; however a Te Pari knife has a rotating anvil which stretches the woolly skin prior to cutting. This leaves a greater bare area, where wool would normally grow and be at risk of urine stain and dags. For more information on the Te Pari knife please see the managing flystrike webpage.

Lambs should be docked to the third palpable joint or to the tip of the vulva in ewes and to the same length in wethers to reduce flystrike risk. Shorter tailed lambs have higher incidences of rectal prolapse and vulva cancer. Tail docking at a shorter length does not necessarily mean less flystrike.

Tails should be docked to the 3rd palpable joint
Correct tail length - tails should be docked to the third palpable joint

Mulesing

It may not be necessary to mules sheep on properties that are in a low risk area and on properties where producers actively select and breed for fly and worm resistance. Animals that will be sold for slaughter prior to the high flystrike risk period do not need to be mulesed. Read more information on managing non mulesed sheep and reducing your risk of flystrike.

For producers who continue to mules, the procedure should be conducted in accordance with the COP – Sheep. A registered pain relief product should be used, and the procedure should be done by an accredited operator, to minimise trauma and to remove the minimal amount of wool-bearing skin adjacent to bare skin.

The following principles should be followed:

  • Lambs should be mulesed two weeks after the end of lambing.
  • If lambing extends for more than six weeks, consider having two mulesing/marking sessions.
  • Maintain a high standard of hygiene and use sharp, clean equipment.
  • Do not mules when conditions are ideal for flies.

Pain relief products for lamb marking

DPIRD recommends that producers use pain relief when mulesing, tail docking and castrating sheep. There are four registered pain relief products that producers can use at lamb marking. Some are Schedule 5 products (S5) and are available over the counter and some are Schedule 4 products (S4) and must be prescribed and dispensed by a veterinary surgeon. The veterinary surgeon must have a bone fide professional relationship with the producer to legally dispense S4 pain relief products.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) has registered pain relief products for use at lamb marking – see Table 1.

Table 1 - Pain relief products for lamb marking and their Witholding Period (WHP) and Export Slaughter Interval (ESI)
Product Description & use Veterinary prescription needed

Meat withholding period (days)

Export slaughter interval (days)

Tri-Solfen®

S5

Pain relief following mulesing, tail docking and castration.

Post-operative gel spray providing local anaesthetic and antiseptic.
No 90 90

NumOcaine®

S4

Local anaesthetic injection for pain relief at tail docking and castration used in conjunction with the NumNuts® ring applicator system.

Yes

0

An ESI has not been established for this product. Trade advice should be sought from the manufacturer before using this product on animals destined for export.

Meloxicam*

S4 

Available under several generic brands

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) for alleviation of pain, fever and inflammation.

Pre-operative subcutaneous injection.
Yes 11 11

Buccalgesic®

S4

Oral preparation of meloxicam. Alleviation of pain and inflammation for castration and tail docking.

Pre-operative liquid administered orally.

Yes 10 10

*Lambs must be older than 14 days

Benefits of providing pain relief

Provision of pain relief to animals enhances their ability to cope with the painful procedure, while also promoting healing by alleviation of tissue trauma and inflammatory processes.

A product like Tri-Solfen® or NumOcaine® provide an anaesthetic effect to reduce the sensation of pain at the time of the procedure. Tri-Solfen® helps control blood loss due to the inclusion of adrenaline which constricts blood vessels, and contains an antiseptic (cetrimide) to help prevent infection, and therefore promotes healing.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs such as injectable meloxicam or oral meloxicam (Buccalgesic®), work on alleviating the pain associated with inflammation after the procedure, and contribute to an animal’s ability to return to normal activities.

It is important to fill out the Mob Mulesing Status of the National Wool declaration when selling wool to reflect that pain relief has been used when mulesing.

Along with improving the welfare outcomes of animals undergoing painful husbandry procedures, provision of pain relief contributes to the sustainability of an industry by meeting community and consumer expectations.

Multi-modal approach to providing pain relief

Painful husbandry procedures, such as mulesing, castration, tail docking, earmarking or ear tagging, may be performed at the same time. In this situation, the best pain relief strategy is to use a ‘multi-modal’ approach which is a combination of a local anaesthetic product (for example Tri-Solfen® or NumOcaine®) and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (for example an injectible meloxicam or Buccalgesic®).

Products should be applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, before, during, or immediately after the painful procedure. This ‘multi-modal’ strategy relieves immediate pain associated with the procedure as well as longer lasting pain associated with inflammation and healing.

A suggested approach to best practice application of registered uses of pain relief products is listed in Table 2.

If using an NSAID, use either an injectable meloxicam or oral Buccalegsic® – but not both.

Table 2 - Application of pain relief products (scroll across to see all columns)
Product Action Application WHP & ESI Mulesing Tail docking with hot knife/knife Castration with knife Tail docking with rings Castration with rings Veterinary prescription needed

Tri-Solfen®

S5

Short acting local anaesthetic Fan spray application to the wound (effective in less than 1 min) 90 days

Buccalgesic®

S4

NSAID

longer acting analgesic

Oral with custom applicator – gel applied inside the cheek (effective after 10 mins) 10 days

Meloxicam

S4

Available under several generic brands

NSAID

longer acting analgesic

Subcutaneous injection under skin high on neck (effective after 10 mins) 11 days

NumOcaine® used in conjunction with NumNuts® ring applicator system

S4

Short acting local anaesthetic Ring applicator combined with an injector that dispenses local anaesthetic (NumOcaine®) for pain relief at tail docking and castration

0 days

 

*ESI (see note)

Adapted from Australian Wool Innovation Ltd Factsheet: Anaesthetics and Analgesics at Lamb Marking.

*Tri-Solfen® relies on an open wound and exposed blood vessels for absorption, and is not effective if using a gas knife, or rings to castrate and tail dock.

*An Export Slaughter Interval (ESI) has not been established for NumOcaine®. The manufacturer’s advice should be sought before using this product.

Preventing flystrike of mulesing wounds

When selecting chemicals to prevent flystrike of mulesing wounds, several factors should be considered. Label withh`zzzz xdolding periods (WHP) for meat and wool should be checked prior to using any product. Wool from individually treated animals should be kept separate from the main clip to minimise any chemical residue risk.

Three groups of chemicals are currently registered for treating mulesing wounds: insect growth regulators (IGR) dicyclanil (for example Clik), spinosyn insecticides (for example Extinosad) and organophosphates (OP).

Most blowflies are at least partially resistant to the OP products and present occupational health and safety risks to the operator. For these reasons, OP products are no longer recommended. Diazinon is no longer registered for flock treatments and now only registered for the treatment of individual animals. Powder dressings should not be used as they may delay healing.

When using products for pain relief and prevention of flystrike on a mulesing wound, DPIRD recommends the use of low volume fly treatments, to prevent excess run off and dilution of the pain relief product. It is important to ensure lambs are not disturbed, handled or mustered for at least four weeks after mulesing to allow the wound to heal. Paddock inspections without disturbance should be done at least every three days during the healing process. Table 3 lists products for preventing flystrike at the time of marking.

Table 3 - Products for preventing flystrike at the time of marking (scroll across to see all columns)

Product name

Chemical group

Active ingredient

Mules wound

Strike wound

Volume per treatment band

Meat withholding period

Wool withholding period

Clik*

(*Clik Plus is not registered for mulesing wounds)

IGR

Dicyclanil

Yes No

4 millilitres (mL)

28 days

3 months

Extinosad & Extinosad Aerosol

Spinosin

Spinosad

Yes Yes

Spray on – until

area is blue & wet

Nil Nil

Mules ‘N Mark II Blowfly Dressing

OP

Propetamphos

Yes Yes

30mL

14 days

2 months

Defiance S1 & Defiance S Aerosol

OP

Chlorfenvinphos 

Yes Yes

5-8mL/kg but no less than 55mL per head

3 days

14 days

Ear tagging and vaccination

A National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) ear tag with the owner’s brand and registered ear mark must be fitted before six months old or before they leave the property, whichever occurs first.

Lambs should be vaccinated with a 3-in-1 or 6-in-1 vaccine. As a minimum, lambs should be vaccinated for pulpy kidney, cheesy gland and tetanus. The marking vaccination will only give protection for six to eight weeks so a second injection is needed, normally at weaning, to give stronger, long-lasting protection. An annual booster is required each year. For lambing ewes, the booster should be given a month before lambing as this will also provide immunity to the lamb.

Scratch vaccination to protect lambs against scabby mouth is also recommended, especially if they are likely to be sold into a live export market or finished in a feedlot.

Use of veterinary chemicals

It is important to maintain a record of use of veterinary chemicals including date of administration and withholding period. Pain relief products, drenches, vaccines, parasiticides, and antibiotics are classified as veterinary chemicals.

Producers must follow all label directions when using pain relief products and all other veterinary chemicals and comply with the WHP. If a producer is to use a product other than as listed on the label (‘off-label use’) they need written directions from their veterinary surgeon to do so.

Buccalgesic®, injectible meloxicam and NumOcaine® are S4 veterinary medications: these must be prescribed and dispensed by a veterinarian before using them. Tri-Solfen® is an S5 product available over the counter from your local agricultural supplier.

More information is available from the APVMA and on the department’s veterinary chemical users webpage.

Contact information

Julia Smith
+61 (0)8 9368 3349
Katherine Davies
+61 (0)8 9690 2169