On a cold, windy day in early May 2022, participants gathered near Murrumbateman to learn about lamb marking with veterinarians Peter and Penny Dagg and sheep owners Jennie Curtis and Ashleigh Wildridge.
Some key points from the workshop:
Marking is a set of procedures designed to improve lamb health, manage breeding and identify sheep. Marking is typically done when lambs are around 4-6 weeks of age. Typical procedures are ear tagging, castrating ram lambs that are not needed for breeding, tail docking and vaccinations.
- Lambs and ewes can be drafted in a race to temporarily separate the lambs from the ewes so that they can be marked. Low stress handling is important since ewes can crush small lambs in a mixed mob in the yards.
- Individual lambs can either be restrained on their back in a cradle or held by another person during lamb marking.
There are two types of pain to consider for lamb marking: immediate (fast) pain and chronic (slow) pain.
- Local anaesthetics make the lamb more comfortable while the procedure occurs and for up to an hour afterwards (immediate pain). Farmers have two options: NumOcaine which is used when applying rings using the Numnuts system and Tri-Solfen which only works when there is an open wound. Tri-Solfen does not provide pain relief for sites where rubber rings are applied since the skin is not cut so will not be useful for most small farmers. NumOcaine is currently available on prescription from vets, Tri-Solfen can be bought from rural suppliers.
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs reduce inflammation, pain and fever but do not deal well with immediate pain. These take 15-30 minutes to take effect and last 9 hours or longer. Nurofen is an example used in humans. Options for sheep are injectable Metacam and Buccalgesic, which is a gel placed between the check and the gum. These are available on prescription from vets.
While traditionally lamb marking was done with no pain relief, the gold standard approach to lamb marking is to provide both immediate and chronic pain relief.
Ear tags may be applied to lambs at marking. Where there is a need to know parentage of lambs (eg. in a sheep stud), ear tags may be applied within a day or two of birth.
Sheep need an ear tag with the Property Identification Code (PIC) for the property where they are born before they leave the property. In NSW, tags can be visual tags (all the information is printed on the tag) or EID tags (all the information is printed on the tag plus the tag can be scanned with a digital scanner).
There is a convention that each year there will be a different colour used for lamb ear tags. It is easy to search for the table of sheep ear tag colours online. The colour for 2022 is red. If a sheep born on another property loses its ear tag while on your property, your only option is to replace it with a pink post breeder tag showing your PIC.
Another convention is to put the tag in the right ear of ewes and left ear of rams/wethers. This is helpful as a visual aid when you are sorting a flock of sheep by sex.
Additional information that may be included on ear tags:
- V to indicate sheep has been vaccinated with Gudair
- Individual sheep number – this can be any format that you choose. One example, for tags for lambs born in 2022 would be to use numbers 2200001, 2200002 etc.
There are many brands of ear tags. Each brand has their own applicator so be sure to match the applicator with the tags you are using. Tags can be bought online or ordered through rural stores. The smallest order size we have found is 10 tags.
- Vaccinate ewes with 6in1 (or 5in1) vaccine against clostridial diseases 4-6 weeks before lambing. The ewes will pass the antibodies to the lambs in the colostrum. This gives the lambs the some protection in the first four weeks after birth.
- Vaccinate lambs with 6in1 (or 5in1) vaccine at 4-6 weeks of age at lamb marking. This is the primer dose.
- Vaccinate lambs with Gudair at lamb marking or up to 16 weeks of age. This is a lifetime vaccination. The vaccine is dangerous if accidentally injected into humans. Lambs that will be slaughtered in first two years do not need Gudair vaccination.
- Give lambs a booster dose of 6in1 (or 5in1) vaccine 4-6 weeks after lamb marking (often done at weaning). This booster dose is essential for continuing immunity through the first year.
- Vaccinate all sheep with 6in1 (or 5in1) annually.
Lamb tails are docked to reduce risk of fly strike caused by dags collecting on long tails. This may be more of a problem for woolly sheep so there is a trend developing to not dock tails of shedding hair sheep.
The current best practice recommendation is to dock the tail at the third palpable joint from the base of the tail. This provides more sun protection for bare skin around the tail and is thought to reduce occurrence of anal and vaginal prolapse.
The most accessible option for small farmers is ring docking where a rubber ring is applied to the tail and the tail falls off 2-4 weeks later.
Castration is the process of removing a ram lamb’s testicles where the lamb will not be used for breeding. This can be done surgically or by applying a rubber ring. Care needs to be taken to get both testicles in the scrotum before applying the ring.
Where sheep will be sold off property, records need to be kept for all medications given. These should include date, which sheep received treatment, name of drug or chemical, dose, batch number and expiry date. These records can be on paper or digital. Various templates are available online.
Other records often made at lamb marking are weight, assessment of lamb structure and adherence to breed standards.
Post marking and weaning
After marking, lambs need to find their mothers (called mothering up). Some breeds are better at this than others. Look for any lambs and ewes that are ‘yelling’ after marking. Quite likely they have lost each other.
Lambs are typically weaned at about 12 weeks of age. This gives the ewes time to recover before joining. Weaning can be very noisy with lambs and ewes calling to each other. Don’t do it near the house! The weaning process will be much slower if the lambs and ewes share a fenceline.
Lambs are more susceptible to worms immediately after weaning. It is helpful to give them a drench and move them onto clean pasture to set them up well to keep growing. This is when they should also get their booster vaccination (6in1 or 5in1). Weaned lambs need the best pasture possible.
This workshop was organised by the Small Farms Network Capital Region committee. Our thanks go to veterinarians Peter and Penny Dagg for sharing their expertise and Ashleigh Wildridge for presenting information.