Sunday, 30 April 2006

Technology and Lamb Marking

A couple of weeks ago I helped my wife’s brother ‘mark’ some of this seasons lambs. What follows gives the reader an understanding of what can be involved, and also highlights some of the technological and regulatory changes that have been introduced over the years.
The activities involved in marking lambs varies widely between livestock breeders but in the vast majority of cases it includes (at least) the application of some permanent ‘mark’ on the lamb this signifies ownership and removal of the animal’s tail.
The list (that comes to my mind) of possible activities during ‘marking’ is:
* MARKING – A small piece of the lamb’s ear is removed using registered (to the owner) design marking pliers to allow future identification. Males are marked in their left ear (right ear when looking at the sheep face on) and females in their right ear, enabling easy sex identification during subsequent handling (such as sorting or drafting). Some farmers also remove small pieces of the ear to signify the lamb’s year of birth. Recent legislation in NSW makes it compulsory that a manufactured ear tag is attached to an ear, identifying the owner and year of issue (different colours). The legislation does not remove the requirement to mark the ear via the marking pliers and thus the ear tag requirement is additional rather than a substitute. Some breeders use more sophisticated identification techniques such as technology readable micro-chips and bar codes enabling record keeping at individual animal level.
* TAIL DOCKING – Tails are removed to reduce the likelihood of fly strike around the base of the tail and reduce the time and effort in shearing (wool removal) the animal. Removal methods include cutting with a knife, application of a small rubber ring (cutting off the circulation and in time the tail falls off) and cutting with a hot (gas fired in most cases) knife which cauterizes the wound (eliminating blood loss and speeding recovery).
* CASTRATION – The testicles are removed or deadened to prevent the selected males from breeding, creating wethers. Doing so also makes handling of the flock easier through reduced animal fighting and avoids the meat becoming too ‘strong or gamy’ in flavour. Removal is by using a knife to remove the end of the scrotum and then manually extracting each testicle with a pair of specially designed pliers; although in days gone by the person performing the procedure would use his or her teeth. Many farmers these days prefer to place a small rubber ring over the entire scrotum using a specially designed tool, cutting off the circulation and in time the scrotum and contents fall from the animal.
* MULESING – Some breeders of merino sheep have the skin around the lamb’s rear and in part down the back legs removed using shears to reduce the risk of fly strike. This practice is under fire from the US based organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), on animal welfare grounds. Australian Wool Innovation is responsible for developing a strategy acceptable to both PETA and the industry.
* PEST & DISEASE CONTROL – Some breeders take the opportunity at marking time to inoculate lambs against pests and diseases via injection, drenching (oral) or external application (liquid onto the wool). Antiseptic and fly repelling liquid is applied to the wounds to reduce the risk of infection and fly strike.
As you will probably appreciate, there are now many different bits and pieces of technology available to assist breeders in the lamb marking process. The main one that has not been mentioned above is lamb marking ‘cradles’. These come in various designs and are all for the purpose of restraining the lambs during the overall marking procedure. Prior to the invention of the cradles the animals were restrained by one person whilst another did the marking. The cradles now make it possible for one person to do the marking on their own.

1 comment:

Griffeaux said...

Phil, I'd be interested in your comments regarding the economic gains as a result of each of your headings under Technology and Lamb Marking. Also, what environmental gains are made as a result - and, you might ultimately respond on the social impacts of each aactivity - both short and long term.
Congratulations on the blog.