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Sheep Docking and Castration Methods

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Since I grew up on one of the biggest sheep outfits in the country, I was well aware of the necessity of docking and castrating. However, I never realized it could be so complicated until I sought advice on the internet.  

The following is what they write on the computer. Not quite what I remember of the simpler methods we used, but then that was more than 70 years ago when all we had were a sharp knife and good teeth.  

Docking is when the tail is shortened. Castration is when the testicles are removed or destroyed. Both are routine management practices on most sheep farms in the United States and other developed countries.  

According to the last U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service National Animal Health Monitoring System Study in 2010, 78.6 percent of U.S. sheep operations docked lambs, and 81.5 percent of lambs were docked. Three-quarters of U.S. operations castrated ram lambs. The average age of castration was 24.7 days. 


Docking improves the health and welfare of sheep and lambs. It prevents fecal matter from accumulating on the tail and hindquarters of the animal. Research has shown tail docking reduces the risk of fly strike from wool maggots, while having no ill effects on lamb mortality or production. Docking facilitates shearing and crutching. It makes it easier to observe the ewe’s vulva and udder and detect potential birthing and milking problems. 

Some lamb buyers discriminate against tailed lambs, since having a tail lowers the dressing percent or yield of the lamb. On the other hand, ethnic buyers of lambs often prefer undocked lambs. For the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice, unblemished lambs are usually preferred. An unblemished lamb is one that has not been docked, castrated or had its horns removed. 

It is natural for a sheep to have a tail. The tail does not interfere with breeding or lambing. The tail protects the ewe’s vulva and udder from weather extremes. To some extent, sheep use their tail to scatter their feces. Tail length is the most heritable trait in sheep. A sheep’s tail is halfway between the length of its two parents. Scientists are trying to breed wooled sheep with short tails that do not require docking. 


The need for castration varies and is based on management needs of the farm and preference of the market place. Ram lambs grow faster and have better body composition than wether lambs, and when ram lambs are marketed at a young age  – typically less than six months – commercial lamb buyers usually do not discriminate in price. Ethnic lamb buyers often prefer intact males and usually pay a premium for them. 

It is usually not necessary to castrate ram lambs for the freezer or locker trade or when selling lamb directly to consumers, as there is no significant difference in the taste or tenderness of the meat from a young ram lamb versus a wether or ewe lamb. Older rams may have a slight taste difference and may not be as desirable for direct marketing. On the other hand, some consumers may prefer the taste of a male. 

The testicles may be surgically removed. With this method, a sharp knife or scalpel is used to remove the bottom one-third of the scrotal sac. The testicles are removed and the wound is allowed to drain and heal naturally. Sometimes, people use their teeth to remove the tiny testicles. It is essential that proper aseptic technique be used when the surgical method of castration is used. 

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