Rights: © Copyright 2016 University of Waikato. All Rights Reserved. Published 21 July 2010 Download

Short tails don’t need docking and make sheep less susceptible to flystrike, which occurs when blowflies lay maggots in their fleece and damage their skin. This improves sheep welfare. Bare backsides, bellies, heads and legs reduce the need for dagging and crutching, make sheep easier to shear and reduce wool handing. These traits improve the economics of sheep farming, as Dr David Scobie explains.

Terms to discuss: dags, docking, crutching, flystrike, dagging, trait, shearing, wool handling

Viewing the Dags and flystrike video clip first will help explain the above key terms and the problem they cause sheep and farmers.

Dr David ScobieAgResearch
We developed what we call low cost easy care sheep because we were trying to lower the cost and improve the welfare of sheep in New Zealand. So it was looking at a sheep with a genetically short tail so we don't have to dock it – that will improve welfare – a bare backside so we don't have to crutch it all the time and it doesn't get dags and therefore it doesn't get flystrike.

So they were our principal things – trying to reduce tail docking and flystrike, improve welfare, trying to decrease the amount of crutching and dagging would improve our economics, because it costs money every time you do that. The other traits – taking the wool off the head and legs and the belly – that was more to make it easier for shearers and to improve the wool handling after it comes off the animal. 2 dollars per sheep per year better off to have these sheep with bare backsides so that you don't have to have them in all the time, crutching them, dagging them, treating them with flystrike chemicals.

The other benefits come from what we call correlated responses, which are improvements in fertility and growth rate of animals that are growing less wool, so in total, 2 dollars per head per year. One of the shearing contractors that we were working with in our project, he said, well, if you could give me sheep that looked like that now, every time I send a shed full of shearers out, instead of sending 2 shed hands with 3 shearers, I could send 1 shed hand – and they are the people who pick up the fleeces and clean up after the shearers – because it’s going to be less work to do. There is no bellies to go in this bag and head pieces to go in that bag and bits to skirt off the outside of the fleece.

Now, Romney sheep and some of the other British breeds that we have here in New Zealand, the tail in some cases is long enough to reach the ground from their backside. Some of the north European sheep breeds have a short tail, and so we thought that would be excellent to be able to harness that very short tail so we could do away with docking.

Unfortunately, when people are docking sheep, some of them take the tails off a little bit too short, and the reason is because it seems to make crutching easier to do when you have a very short tail. What you'll find is that what you’ve done is taken the tail off very short, the wool that is growing out of here will very quickly droop over the backside and start collecting faeces and get dags and then we’ll get flystrike. So you have to get those sheep in more frequently and crutch them. So you've made your job easier in the short term, but you have to do it more often in the long term, whereas if they've got a little tail that they can actually lift the wool out of the way and hold it out of the way while they are defecating then you don't have to crutch them as often.

Dr Clive Dalton, Woolshed 1
Australian Finnsheep Breeders Association
M Claire, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
Public Domain
Marji Beach
Steve & Della Jones, Gippfinn Finnsheep Stud
Coast to coast