Ovine Observer

Pain relief at lamb marking

Katherine Davies, DPIRD Northam, WA

Author correspondence:

DPIRD recommends that producers use pain relief when mulesing, tail docking and castrating lambs at marking time. 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.

There are several pain relief products registered for use on lambs:

  • Meloxicam is a long-acting non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly used in humans and animals. It is available for use in lambs in two forms; an injection applied under the skin high on the neck (Metacam® and other brands) or an oral gel applied inside the cheek (Buccalgesic®). Meloxicam is effective after 10 to 15 minutes and provides systemic (whole-body) pain relief for 10 to 15 hours.
  • Tri-Solfen® is a short-acting topical spray containing two local anaesthetics: short-acting lignocaine and longer-acting bupivacaine. It also contains adrenalin to constrict blood vessels and cetrimide as an antiseptic. The spray must be applied directly onto an open wound; therefore, it is not suitable if using hot gas knife for tail docking, or rubber rings for castration and tail docking. It provides pain relief to the area within minutes, lasting 3 to 4 hours.
  • NumOcaine® is a short-acting topical pain relief injection containing the anaesthetic lignocaine, which is injected into the scrotum or tail by the specialised NumNuts® applicator with a ring. It provides pain relief to the area within minutes, lasting up to 45 minutes.

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 to relieve both the immediate pain associated with the procedure, as well as longer lasting pain associated with inflammation and healing. For example, Tri-Solfen® or NumOcaine® administered together with an NSAID such as Buccalgesic® or Metacam® (or another injectable meloxicam brand) is an effective method to alleviate both the immediate and longer lasting pain. It is important to note that Metacam® or other injectable meloxicam brands cannot be used in combination with Buccalgesic® as they are the same drug, just in different forms.

Products should be applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, either before, during, or immediately after the painful procedure. Tri-Solfen® is a Schedule 5 (S5) product, available over the counter at agricultural re-sellers. NumOcaine®, Buccalgesic® and Metacam® (or other injectable meloxicam brands) are Schedule 4 (S4) and must be prescribed and dispensed by a vet with a bona fide professional relationship with the producer. As with all veterinary chemical use, the Withholding Period (WHP) and Export Slaughter Interval (ESI) must be adhered to, and they are outlined for each product in Table 1 below, along with the painful husbandry procedure that each can be used for.

Table 1. Pain relief products, their withholding period (WHI), export slaughter interval (ESI) and application.




Tail docking with hot gas knife

Tail docking with cold knife

Tail docking with rings

Castration with knife

Castration with rings

Veterinary prescription needed



90 days



10 days



Several generic brands including Metacam®

11 days

NumOcaine® used with NumNuts® ring applicator system


0 days


*ESI (see note)

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

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

For more detailed information, please visit the department’s ‘Best practice marking of lambs’ webpage