Why in the World Would You Dock Their Tails?
In 2019 the closest we could get to a Fullblood Valais Blacknose Sheep was to participate in the breed-up program. Like others, we found a small flock of Scottish Blackface ewes and we were off to the races. Our first lambing season was special. Those F1s acted like no other sheep we had before. But there is always one that stands out. For us, that little guy's name was Milo.
Milo wasn't a bottle baby, but he acted like one. His disposition made us fall in love with this breed all the more. If an F1 was like Milo, we could only imagine what it would be like to have a barn full of fullbloods.
We soon had a family come to visit and of course, they fell in love with Milo. The husband wanted Milo for his wife because she wanted to start a small farm for people to come to visit and the animals would be therapeutic. Well, we knew Milo would fit right in. Little did we know Milo would soon fall ill and eventually would no longer be with us. While all of our other lambs were just fine, with a very wet Spring season Milo had become a victim of flystrike.
Flystrike was new to us. In all our years of raising livestock, we'd never heard of it or had a case of it. As soon as we figured out what it was, we treated him, watched him closely, and felt after some time he seemed to be getting better. He was not ok and eventually passed away. Afterward, we did what anybody would do, we started searching for information on how to prevent this from happening again.
We researched some of the ways to prevent flystrike. Most of the information we found was from Australia and New Zealand. I predict this will be another issue we'll need to learn and understand with this breed here in the United States. We are not able to control how wet and humid our seasons are, we can check our sheep regularly but the length of the wool on this breed it's easy to miss something. No matter how clean our barn is, when it's hot, there will be flies, after all, it's a barn. One prevention method suggested was to dock tails.
In the US, the majority have sheep breeds have docked tails. This is a pretty typical procedure. Multiple resources recommended tail docking and described the suitable tail length:
TAIL LENGTH: When marking lambs, ensure the tail length is appropriate to minimize stain around the breech and reduce flystrike risk throughout the sheep’s life. The recommended tail length for ewes is to ensure the healed tail just covers the vulva. This means docking immediately below the third palpable joint or through the third joint space. Male lambs should have their tails docked to the same length as ewe lambs.
Let me assure you we understand the importance of NOT docking tails on Fullblood Valais Blacknose Sheep. We respect and want to uphold the breed standards and have every intention of doing so. Our Fullblood Valais tails will not be docked. F1s and 2s however are a different story.
Our F1s and 2s are the beginning stages of the breed-up program. We have no intention of taking them to shows but, use them for breeding. We are not the type of people to follow the leader but instead think about how to handle situations by reaching out to others with experience and knowledge and researching to find solutions. It was a no-brainer for us to dock the tails of our F1s and 2s for the prevention of flystrike. If it comes to someone thinking what we do is awful to what is best for the health of our animals, the health of our animals will win every time. If we'd learned sooner, maybe Milo would be on a farm right now providing some animal therapy and making a difference in people's lives.
To learn more about flystrike and how to prevent and treat it here are some resources: