This fact sheet was developed by students enrolled in Purdue's ANSC 442 Sheep Management course in Spring 2005, as a semester project. These fact sheets provide useful information on various topics related to sheep. View the list of fact sheets.


Baby Lamb Processing

By Amanda Williams
Alicia Mahovlich
Devin Cunningham
Jeremy Jones

 

Tagging

One important management practice in sheep production is to provide means of identification. The most common way to do this is through ear tagging. There are several different types of tags that can be used. They vary with the material they are made from as well as the size, shape and color.

The first picture includes an example of a tag applicator. Applicators are specified for certain sizes and styles of tags. This applicator is used for large and extra large tags like the one next to it. The two parts of the tag is placed in position on the applicator for use.

The next picture displays where the tag should be placed. The number should be on the outside of the ear. When tags are put on lambs the producer should position the tag around the lower central portion of the ear. It is important to avoid putting the tag into the ear where the main blood vessels run.

The tag should be visible to the producer and the number should be clearly written. Sheep tag manufacturers can personalize and print the numbers as well as the farm name on the tag to save time on writing the numbers and information individually. Oftentimes, producers use different colors for different years of production for record purposes.

Another type of applicator is used for snap tags. These tags are very small and the numbers cannot be seen unless the producer gets close to the animal. Numbers are also printed on these tags but leaves room for little other information.

One problem with tagging methods is that they can be ripped out of the lamb, ewe or ram’s ear and cause infections to occur. Also, certain tags are used for the Scrapie Eradication Program with premise identification and flock identification numbers. These tags are usually large plastic tags like the ones above. Tattooing is another option when using identification methods.

 

Hoof Trimming

Hoof trimming is another very important management practice performed on lambs. It must be done to prevent bacterial diseases such as foot rot. Hooves should be cleaned and checked periodically depending on how fast the hoof grows and the environmental conditions.

Most commonly, hoof trimmers like the picture below are used. Special types of knives are also used among producers. The hoof trimmers are easy to grip and use. Some producers use “sheep chairs” to make trimming easier. Most of the time, the sheep are turned over so they are resting on their lower back. The person doing the hoof trimming holds the sheep’s shoulders with his/her knees and legs to free his/her hands to work on the hooves and securely hold the feet.

The first step in hoof trimming is to clean away the dirt, mud, stones and anything else that has collected on the hoof. Inspect the hoof and take note of the color and if there is any distinguishing smells. A rotten smell may be an indicator of foot rot. Once the hoof is cleaned, the trimming process may begin. Start on the outside perimeter of the hoof and take small cuts. Work your way through the entire hoof and make sure to trim as close as possible. If slight bleeding occurs then the point has been reached where no more trimming is needed.

 

Castration

There are many different methods of castration that range from surgical to non-surgical. Most producers choose to castrate sheep at a young age because the techniques are easier for the operator, less stressful on the sheep, and are more conducive to animal welfare regulations. Below I have outlined the two most common techniques.

Surgical Castration

Surgical castration is the most accurate method of castration because the testicles are completely removed with a scalpel. It should be performed in a dry area and, if possible, out of fly season. The younger the lamb, the less stress it suffers from.

When doing this procedure you should follow the following steps:

  1. Make sure you wash all equipment with an antiseptic solution.
  2. Clean the scrotum with a mild surface disinfectant to prepare the incision site.
  3. Take your sharp scalpel and cut a third of the scrotum away to expose the bottom of the testicles.
  4. Push the rest of the scrotum toward the lamb, exposing the testicles. Then grasp them with clean fingers or a disinfected scalpel and pull them out.
  5. The lamb should then be watched frequently throughout the next 24 hours and administered some type of penicillin.

Elastic Band Castration

The elastic band inhibits blood flow to the testicles and the scrotum. After awhile, the scrotum and testicles descend off the body. Un-proper castration techniques could result in a retained testicle. The operator should always have a clear understanding of the sheep’s anatomy and use proper technique when using elastic band castration.

When doing this procedure you should follow the following steps:

  1. Use elastic rings that are no more than 12 months old to assure a tight fit around the scrotum and also prevent breakage. The rings need to be small enough to shut off blood flow in the arteries because the scrotum will swell if not tight enough.
  2. Pull both testicles in to the scrotum and hold.
  3. Stretch the ring over the testicles and scrotum. Let go of the band just above the top of the testicles, not at the base of the scrotum.
  4. Once on, make sure both testicles are still in the bottom of the scrotum and that the ring is in the right position.

For more information on castration:
http://www.gov.on.ca/OMAFRA/english/livestock/beef/facts/info_castration.htm
http://www.pipevet.com/articles/Baby_Lamb_Processing.htm

 

Tail Docking

Tail docking is a very important part of sheep management. Docking prevents fecal matter from building up underneath the tail which prevents fly strike. Although it can lead to problems with rectal prolapse when the lambs are older, it is a necessary practice.

The most humane method of tail docking involves placing a rubber band around the tail when the lamb is between seven and ten days old. A ring expander, like the one pictured above, is used to open the rubber band wide enough so that it can slide over the tail. This cuts off the blood supply to the end of the tail and it eventually falls off. Other methods, such as cutting or crushing the tail, can be used but can very easily lead to infection. When using any method of docking, it is common to leave enough of the tail so that it can still be raised by the lamb.

 

Vaccinations

Vaccinating is a very important aspect of lamb processing. Vaccinations help to protect lambs from diseases and parasites that there mother can not prevent.

One of the main things to vaccinate for is Enterotoxaemia, more commonly called overeating or pulpy kidney. It is caused by the Clostridia Perfringens bacteria and lives in the soil and manure. There are two types, C and D. Type C usually affects that are up to seventy two hours and can cause hemorrhaging in the stomach. Type D and happen at any age and affects the nervous system.

Tetanus, or lockjaw, is another clostridial disease that is usually a concern shortly after tail docking and castration. It can also affect other areas of skin that have been cut open. Both overeating and tetanus can be controlled by vaccination. A vaccine called Clostridium C & D and Tetanus (CD&T) is most commonly used because it will take care of both types of overeating bacteria and tetanus. This should be given at one week old, a booster at 3 weeks old, and then at six month intervals. A tetanus antitoxin can also be used to vaccinate for tetanus.

Deworming your lambs is also very important to keep your baby lambs healthy and to maximize weight gain. There are several different drugs that can be used to rid lambs of a variety of parasites. Valbazen (albendazole), pictured below, can be used for liver flukes, stomach worms, tapeworms, intestinal worms, lungworms, hook worms, and baber pole worms. Ivomec (ivermectin) can be used for round worms, lungworms, grubs, lice, and mange mites. Panacur (fenbendazole) can be used for round worms and hook worms. It is generally suggested to use one of these drugs at least once a month depending on your farms history and many producers will rotate between two or more of the drugs. Most dewormers are given orally.

Before using any vaccination it is very important to talk to your veterinarian and determine the best program for your animals and to also make sure you know the correct amount to use for the size of lamb.

*For more information on any of the above processes consult your local veterinarian*

 

*Pictures provided by Devin Cunningham, Amanda Williams, Jeremy Jones, and Alicia Mahovlich*

A special thanks to Gerald Kelly, Manager, Sheep Unit, Purdue University Animal Research Farm for letting us use the facilities.