Do sheep have tails? Most people would answer this question with a resounding ‘no.’ It seems reasonable to assume that most sheep don’t have tails. To believe otherwise would be weird, right? But what if we were to tell you that the answer is yes? That’s right! Sheep are born with tails.

Well, almost all sheep have tails. But some breeds are born with a “bobtail” or even no tail at all. Whether a sheep has a tail depends on the parent’s genes.

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Tail Docking Overview

The tail of a sheep is called the dock. It’s cut off when the lamb is less than a day old. Handlers will do this while holding the lamb in one hand and cutting the tail off with the other.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, the reason that they cut off the tail is to prevent flystrike. It’s a condition caused by blowflies laying eggs on the sheep’s back. They then hatch into larvae that eat the sheep from inside out. It can cause excruciating pain to the sheep. So, most farmers will have it removed.

Now that you know that sheep have tails, why are they cut when young?

corriedale sheep
Image Credit: Pixabay

Tail Docking Process and Purpose

Tail docking is a procedure that takes place on sheep and cattle. It refers to the process of cutting a part of an animal’s tail.

Usually, the procedure is performed on lambs soon after their birth. But it can also be done on cattle and pigs. In some cases, tail docking is done for aesthetic reasons, such as preventing the tail from growing too long. At other times, it’s done for hygienic reasons. It’s a way to keep animals clean and free from infections.

Tail docking has been practiced for centuries. The earliest known instances occurred in ancient Egypt and China. Today, it reduces the likelihood of animals contracting infections or injuring themselves. In many countries around the world, tail docking is a standard procedure in animal husbandry.

mother sheep and her baby
Image Credit: Piqsels

What Methods are Used When Tail Docking?

There are several different tail docking methods practiced around the world. Here, we’ll go over the details of these tail docking methods used on sheep according to Sheep101. This way, you’ll understand what happens during tail docking.

1. Using Rubber Rings

Rubber rings are the most humane method of sheep tail docking. They are used on smaller farms. A rubber ring is placed around the tail. It cuts off the supply of blood and will kill the tail.

The time it takes for this to happen varies depending on the size of the lamb. It can take up to 3 weeks for a lamb with a small tail to lose all feeling in the tail. A larger lamb with a thick tail can take between four and five weeks.

The rings used are made of high tensile strength rubber. The rubber ring method is easy and inexpensive. They are applied to the tail with pressure so that they grip tightly around the tail, usually two or three days after it’s born.

2. Clamp and Surgical Removal

It’s the most effective method of tail docking. Clamp and surgical removal are performed by making an incision in the skin at the base of the tail. It enables the docking to be completed quickly and without pain. The wound is then dressed in an antibiotic ointment and covered with a bandage.

Clamp and surgical removal can take less than 10 seconds to perform. This technique is commonly used on lambs, although it was previously used on calves. It’s also known as ‘short tail docking.

young sheep on grass
Image Credit: Piqsels

3. Tail Iron

It’s a type of tail docking that involves using a solid bar of metal. Usually, it’s made from stainless steel and is used to cut off the tail. In this method, the tail is held in place by a device known as a crush. When the tail is cut off it falls into a basin below where it is then collected and disposed of.

Tail iron is the oldest method in use, dating back to the 16th century. The primary reason why farmers use this method is due to safety measures.

It’s easy to use and usually the most cost-effective method. But lambs are known for wriggling around when their tails are being docked. It can make this process harder. Also, this means that you must be careful when docking these lambs because you don’t want to cut them too short or too long.

sheep divider 2 Are There Sheep Born without Tails?

All sheep are born with tails. It’s just that the tail is so short that you can’t see it. It’s called a stubby tail. By the time the sheep is six weeks old, its tail has grown to approximately 10 cm in length. The tail is then cut off close to the body.

A sheep’s tailbone is made of cartilage. It’s just like how our noses are before they’re fully developed. The tailbone of a sheep is attached to rear-end ligaments which will wither after the tail is removed. It causes the tail to fall off in clumps or one solid piece.

two young sheep on the grass
Image Credit: Piqsels

How Long Does a Sheep’s Tail Take to Fall Off?

The process of removing a sheep’s tail can take anywhere from one to two weeks. The length of time it takes depends on the age and breed of the sheep.

Usually, the dock is cut off when the lamb is between two and four days old. When this occurs, the tail falls off faster in younger animals.

But, in older sheep closer to adulthood, it can take up to four weeks for their tail to fall off. It’s because older sheep have thicker skin that requires more time to heal. It’s usually more painful for them.

sheep running away from predators
Image Credit: hannahlmyers, Pixabay

Do Wild Sheep Have Long Tails?

Yes, sheep’s tails are relative to their body size. Wild sheep have longer tails than domestic sheep. But the difference is minimal. Usually, the tail part of a domestic sheep is between 40 and 50 cm long (around 16 inches), and that of a wild sheep is between 70 and 90 cm (about 28-36 inches).

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Sheep have tails, and much like any other animal, their tails are used for balance when walking and to sway away flies. They can also use the tail to communicate with other sheep in a herd.

However, tails aren’t helpful to sheep as they grow. It’s because a sheep’s tail can cause infections. These infections may make the sheep’s health deteriorate. So, it is advisable to cut the sheep’s tail at an early age to prevent this.

Featured Image Credit: Piqsels