Honestly, I had no idea what to expect on the day set aside for docking lambs. I was invited to come along and told to bring a camera. I rarely turn down an opportunity to hike in Shakespear Park, especially ones that involve the lambs.
Living on the doorstep of an Auckland Regional Park, we have access to great hiking trails, a variety of beaches, and farm animals – in this case, sheep and cows. We all know the city girl in me is still intimidated by the cows, even after living in New Zealand for so long.
Thankfully, today’s story is about sheep and lambs.
What is docking?
Before I left the house, I looked up docking lambs: “Docking is the intentional removal of part of an animal’s tail.” At that moment my enthusiasm for the day drained a bit, but my curiosity took over. Why would anyone intentionally remove a lamb’s tail?
The park ranger offered an answer.
Lambs have no hygiene. Therefore, their tails often end up covered in excrement. The odour attracts blowflies which then lay eggs on animals.
The eggs hatch and the maggots eat the flesh of the lamb, and in the process poison the sheep, resulting in an illness called Flystrike. It is far worse than anything that takes place during the docking process.
The reality is that sheep farmers have been docking lambs for centuries.
Setting up for docking lambs
Not sure exactly what to expect, I hopped on one of the “mules” and the team headed up the paddock that houses twin lambs.
- Just my luck, cows on the road (as seen through the dirty front window of the mule I rode in, we were second in the caravan).
- Once in the paddock, the Rangers and volunteers quickly set up fences and gates before rounding up the lambs.
- The dogs muster (roundup) the sheep and lambs towards the newly set up pen, while volunteers wait to close the gate once they are inside.
- The sheep and lambs in the pen look as though they are smiling for the camera. They are not.
- The dog leaps out of the pen after rounding up the sheep.
- Drafting is next. It is the process of sorting the animals. In this case, the lambs went into pens, while the sheep were released back into the larger paddock.
- After the docking, a Ranger removes a lamb from the docking cradle by his back legs. The lamb runs off to its mama.
- Don’t worry, she is fine. The final photo shows her just after docking with her new short tail bouncing off to find her mama.
This was a tough day for me. My compassionate side couldn’t understand why they would do this, but my rational side knows it is far better than the alternative.
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