Anyone who has seen or smelt a case of flystrike in sheep will understand just how traumatic it can be. For those who don’t know, the maggots of certain species of blowfly are attracted to areas where fleece is rotting or stained with urine and faeces. The maggots burrow into the skin and literally eat the sheep alive. The worst cases of flystrike occur in the “breach”, the area under the tail, as that’s an area which is often dirty. One of the common ways to help prevent this is to amputate the tail of young lambs in order to prevent manure form sticking to the underside of it.
We have always found tail docking particularly unpleasant (for us and certainly for the lambs); yet we were always told we would lose sheep to breach strike if we left their tails on. With the summer just passed having perfect conditions for flies (hot and wet), we knew we would have to be checking the sheep every two days for flies, so we decided it was time to run a trial. Half our lambs had their tails docked and the other half were left. The selection process was completely random, some were ewes and some wethers and all of different sizes.
With the summer over and the fly season nearly over, we can present some early results here.
Total number of lambs struck on the back or shoulder — 7
Total number of lambs struck on the breach — 0
The 7 struck on the body were found and treated early and have made a full recovery. In a season such as the one we’ve just had, this is a pretty good result. Most importantly, however, not a single lamb was struck on the breach, including those whose tails were left on. This is great news for us, as it means we can seriously consider not docking tails at all in the future. With autumn lambing about to start, we plan not to tail any of this group; meaning less stress for the lambs (and for the farmers).
The next step in the trial is to bring the lambs home in the next couple of weeks and see if there’s a noticeable difference in health and condition. The idea is that not having that extra stress when they are young, they may grow out faster. We will report on this soon.