Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Lambs with long tails

This morning we were up early to gather two bunches of the oldest lambs and their mothers for docking.    Docking is the process where we shorten the lambs tails, castrate the bucks, vaccinate, and give each lamb a paint brand.  Why?  Docking the tails short helps the sheep when the warmer weather comes and the flies begin to plague them.  Tails and hind quarters can become messy, especially because wool attracts and holds dirt and manure.  If flies lay eggs in the matted manure on sheeps' tails and hind quarters, the eggs will hatch into maggots and burrow into the sheep and eventually, maggots can kill them.    Castration is a necessity especially when running sheep next to a neighbor who has sheep.  Buck lambs can cause a breeding catastrophe in any herd, even our own.  If bucks happen to get out of their pastures, they can breed a lot of ewes in a short time.  In our state, the owner of said stray bucks can be held financially liable for an entire lamb crop if an unplanned breeding happens in another man's herd.  We have just 6 bucks (or rams) that are used in our herd of 200 ewes and they are run separately during most of the year.  The paint brand identifies the ranch where a stray lamb belongs.

Castrated bucks are called wethers and are sold for meat while bucks (or rams)  are used for breeding.    Ewes sometimes receive an ear notch at docking to identify them quickly from the wethers when sorted down a sorting alley.  Also, the ear notch can identify the year in which the ewe is born.  We notch the ewe lambs but we also give them a colored ear button.  The color is different for every year and identifies their year of birth.  This information is written down in The Book which Hubs keeps in his shirt pocket most of the time.  The Book has all our livestock information and records and it is kept year after year for reference.  Most information is also transferred to the computer, but The Book is where the initial recording is done.  (Note:  The laundress must be very careful to check husband's pockets for The Book.  She twice in one lifetime washed said Book in two different years.)

 The process of docking also gives us a chance to see the lambs close up and we get a good tally on them.  Today we docked 55 lambs born to just 33 ewes.  That's a 166% lamb crop out of just these few ewes.  The rest of the docking tallies will give us a better idea of our lamb crop percentages in the weeks to come.  

Paint brand on the right rib

Docking is a process which requires at least two people or more.  More is better.  Today, the sons held the lambs while Hubs did the docking and I applied the paint brand.  My MIL before me always, always branded the lambs and now I am the official lamb brander.  Eldest Son said as we worked, "Branding is a grandma thing, isn't it?"  I've been branding since before I was a grandma, but that's how my grandkids will remember it, I suppose.

Lambs with short tails, feeding with their mothers

Immediately after the lambs are docked, they are put out with their mothers.  Many of the lambs will lie down a few minutes and then hop up later to nurse their mothers.   Some find their mothers immediately and nurse for comfort.  As you can see, many lambs are nibbling hay next to their mothers. 


  1. I am amazed at how much there is to know about caring for sheep and I admire you for dealing with all the pitfalls. Are there handbooks for animal husbandry these days?

  2. This all sounds painful...I must be a big whimp! :)

  3. That is a bunch of cuteness all in one room. When you dock the tails is there any treatment that happens to the end or are they good to go? I remember when I was a kid my dad docked the tails of our puppies when they were not very old and seeing grisly looking somethings but don't remember watching them heal up. I've always wondered how he knew what he was doing.

  4. Pom Pom,
    I suppose there are handbooks for livestock but I haven't read one for sheep. I know that the 4-H program has really good resources for livestock husbandry. I found another resource online here: http://www.countrysidemag.com/store/books/0-48644-038-9.html The book is a handbook on raising small livestock. The Countryside Magazine is good too. You might enjoy their website. I have enjoyed the forums in the past.

    You're not a wimp, but raising livestock involves lots of good parts and not so good parts.

    This time of year, there are no bugs to "bug" the lambs tails so we don't do anything, but if it were warmer, we would spray an insecticide on the tail when finished docking.


  5. Well Jody, I almost did not have the guts to read this post. But I did, squeamish tummy and all. I am always amazed when I read about your life on the ranch, as usual you amaze me. xoxoxo Clarice


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