Sheep Keeping, Castrating and Tail Docking

Mark Gordon BrownStarred Page By Mark Gordon Brown, 12th Feb 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Pets>Farm Animals

Before they are a week old lambs often have their tails docked, if they are a male they often have their testicles removed. Learn how this is done, why, and the authors opinions.

Castrating a Lamb

Although I am a poor speller, the word Wether is spelled correctly and refers to a castrated sheep.

When and Why?

Male lambs, also called ram lambs, are often castrated between 3 and 7 days of age. After that they are referred to as Wethers.

There are several reasons why a sheep producer might castrate his, or her, lambs, although I will point out that my wife and I do not do this to our sheep.

By castrating a male sheep the meat does not have as strong of a taste as when the animal is left intact. This is an advantage, or disadvantage, depending on whom a meat buyer is. While many people are accustomed to lamb meat from castrated animals (steers, wethers) some ethnic buyers, such as Muslims, prefer a lamb that is intact.

Castrating a sheep may make it gentler although I have not had any aggressive rams in my flock. Still it is worth noting that for pets, or for petting zoos, a wethered animal may be preferred. They are often cheaper to purchase than ewes and a number of wethers can be kept together or with ewes without concerns of them fighting each other or chasing the ewes.

How Lambs are Castrated

The act of castrating a lamb can be done several ways, from surgical removal (considered to be the most painful as this is done when the lamb is fully conscious) to the Emasculator which crushes the spermatic cord and blood vessels (no thanks) to the Elastrator, which in my opinion seems like the option I would take if I were going to do this to my own lambs. The Elastrator is also used to remove the tails (docking) and is a tool which places a special elastic band on the testicles, and they fall off a few weeks later.

Tail Docking


Tail Docking is a process done to some young wool sheep lambs. Again, I do not do this to my lambs, even the wool lambs. This is done usually at 2-5 days of age. To say it is not painful is a lie, although perhaps it is less painful when done at this age than when they are older (which would require a veterinarian).

How Tail Docking is done on Lambs

Tail docking also uses the same tools as can be used to wether a sheep. Again if I were going to do this I would use the Elastrator. The tail is pulled through the opened elastic band which is released and tightens on the tail cutting off the blood supply, and the tail falls off in a week or two. Other tools can be used which cut the tail off and heat the blood vessels, or squish them, thus stopping the blood flow.

The Reasons for Tail Docking

Wool sheep tend to accumulate feces on their tails. This can be a problem in that it attracts flies. If enough flies accumulate they can cause a problem known as Fly Strike. Although it sounds implausible, flies lay their eggs around the sheep's anus and the maggots start eating the insides of the sheep. Fly Strike is actually a fairly common problem in pet rabbits who are kept in filthy conditions. I have never seen it in my sheep, even those with long tails, In areas where fly populations are heavy, and more animals are kept, it can be a real concern. Keeping a few free range hens certainly puts a damper on the number of flies around my acreage.

Messy tails can mean dirty udders a concern for nursing lambs, but to be realistic about the whole thing, sheep eat from the same pastures they poop in.. so...

Most sheep feces are round balls, and fall freely away from the rump unless the animal has diarrhea in which case a good amount would stick to the tail. Such diarrhea is more common in the spring when the grass is lush and new.

Messy tails get in the way of shearing. This is probably the biggest reason why tails are docked. Fleeces with poop get less money than those that are clean, and removing the crusty mess from a tail can be difficult.

Concerns with Tail Docking

Some people see tail docking as cruel, and inhumane. If it is done wrong, and the tail cut too short, it can cause problems for the sheep.

Some buyers prefer lambs with natural tails.

photo source

Other Information and Links

One caution regardless of the method used, is infection and tetanus, so castrating should only be done on animals once they are vaccinated for tetanus and housed in clean, dry, facilities.

My Sheep

My sheep, except for 2 ewes whose tails were docked before we got them, all have naturally long tails. It is worth noting that some breeds have shorter tails than others, and hair sheep breeds (my favorite) do not get fluffy tails anyhow so mess accumulating on their tails (and shearing) is never a concern.

Our Sheep Blog

Advantages of Hair Sheep

How to Care for Bottle Baby Lambs

Fly Strike

Mulesing is a cruel practice done to most Merino sheep in Australia in addition to tail docking when animals are going to be kept for breeding.

Join Me on Wikinut, Get Paid to Write!


Age, Castrate, Castrated, Castrating, Cruel, Dock, Docked, Docking, How Old, Keep, Keeping, Lamb, Lambing, Lambs, Livestock, Sheep, Tail, Wether, Wethered

Meet the author

author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
Raised in Michigan, I have a son who recently joined the Military. I am living in Canada with my wife where we have a hobby farm.

Share this page

moderator johnnydod moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Jerry Walch
12th Feb 2011 (#)

Very interesting. I learned something from this article Mark.

Reply to this comment

author avatar christopheranton
13th Feb 2011 (#)

I suppose, if you only have a
few sheep, you can clean their tails yourself.
Thanks for that interesting article.

Reply to this comment

author avatar TNT_Brian
14th Feb 2011 (#)

I've heard of people leaving the tails and the lambs rear ends become infected. Maggots follow. it's really not nice for the lamb or the farmer. glad i don't have to deal with that. very good article :)

Reply to this comment

author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
14th Feb 2011 (#)

TNT Brian - that is what is called Fly Strike - I have never had this problem.. in over crowded conditions, unclean, and such, you would attract flies. I also have free range hens which eat any flies

Reply to this comment

author avatar Carol
14th Feb 2011 (#)

Very interesting Mark, many thanks

Reply to this comment

author avatar Denise O
15th Feb 2011 (#)

Mark a well written and researched piece, as always.
Thank you for sharing.:)

Reply to this comment

author avatar Retired
15th Feb 2011 (#)

Another perfect piece of work.

Reply to this comment

author avatar LOVERME
16th Feb 2011 (#)

u live on a farm where ???
i \d love to stay in one overnight
away from these stone jungles

Reply to this comment

author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
16th Feb 2011 (#)

lovely honey, my wife and I are in Central Alberta, our farm is really a hobby farm, 10 acres only. You can see pictures on Our Sheep Blog, I have linked to this page.
Some times I miss the busy city jungle, but if we moved back to the city now, I would miss the quiet of the farm.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Angelique Newman
17th Feb 2011 (#)

Another great article Mark. I often wandered why sheep's tails were docked. Thanks for sharing.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Retired
23rd Feb 2011 (#)

Good info...I never knew this before. good job.

Reply to this comment

author avatar leesab
27th Feb 2011 (#)

I learned alot here, Thank you Mark! This piece was very interesting and I'm so happy to hear that you don't do this to your sheep!

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?