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Lamb marking - are you using best practice?

By Lillian Mukandiwa, ParaBoss Technical Manager
October 2016


Times change, as does best practice, so if you’ve been lamb marking for years it might be time to check that you are up with the latest procedures. It’s also an important time for worm and flystrike management, for instance, do your lambs need drenching, are you assessing your lambs for breech strike susceptibility, and what breech strike prevention procedures are you using at marking?

Best practice is described, not only for lamb marking, but for all operations in the excellent MLA publication “A producer’s guide to sheep husbandry practices” by Joan Lloyd and Matt Playford.

See the following pages relevant for lamb marking time:

  • Lamb marking: pages 9–10:
  • Identifying sheep: pages 11–13
  • Castrating: pages 43–45
  • Tail docking: pages 46–48

To drench or not at lamb marking

Some producers will be well ahead of worms, having prepared low worm-risk lambing paddocks and drenched their ewes into those paddocks with an effective short-acting drench. This will have reduced the chance they will need to drench at lamb marking, with some going all the way to weaning before the first drench.

But as conditions vary with season and quality of preparation, WormBoss always recommends a WormTest (and ideally, a larval culture on the ewes—not the lambs) 7–10 days before marking to assess the situation.

When your results are back just look up your regional WormBoss Drench Decision Guide on the WormBoss website to see if a drench is warranted for the ewes; the drenching threshold will vary according to region and seasonal conditions.

If the ewes need drenching, then also drench the lambs.

Test again mid-way to weaning, and then routinely drench all lambs at weaning.

In areas with high barber’s pole worm risk, the first Barbervax vaccination can be given at lamb marking.

Tail docking

Docking the tail to the correct length at lamb marking time is crucial in minimising stain around the breech and reducing flystrike risk throughout the sheep’s life.

The recommendation is to dock the tail immediately below the third palpable joint or to the tip of the vulva in ewes.

This tail length allows the sheep to lift its tail and channel urine and faeces away from the breech area. It also reduces the risk of cancers from exposure of soft tissue to the sun.

Tails are generally removed in one of three ways:

  • lamb marking knife
  • docking iron (also called a hot knife)
  • elastrator rings

A docking iron, when used correctly, gives the best results.

Most lambs will also require some immediate flystrike protection on or around the docking, castration and mulesing wounds.


Ideally, breed sheep with less wrinkle at the breech so mulesing is not required. Where it is still required, producers are encouraged to consider using pain relief products because the supply chains for both wool and meat are becoming increasingly interested in their suppliers’ husbandry practices.

The Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) has registered products for the following purposes:

  • Tri-Solfen® for pain relief following mulesing, castration and tail docking
  • Metacam 20® for alleviation of pain and inflammation
  • Buccalgesic® for alleviation of pain and inflammation for castration and tail docking.

Lamb marking check for breech strike susceptibility

If you’ve thought about stopping mulesing, then the following scores are required to have the same risk of breech strike as that of mulesed sheep:

  • Breech wrinkle score 2
  • Dag score 2
  • Breech cover score 3  

Lamb marking is the ideal opportunity to assess your lambs. Do a count of breech strike-susceptible lambs.

There’s no need for recording or extra labour, just a few minutes preparation and some thought when the tails are done is all that is needed. 

Breech wrinkle and dag score are the most important factors in breech strike and breech cover becomes more important at higher wrinkle scores. Lambs with a breech wrinkle score of 1 or 2 rarely get struck, whereas those with a score of 4 and particularly 5 have a high chance of being struck.  

Before lamb marking, print out the scoring picture and tape it to the lamb marking cradle for quick reference. If you use rubber rings to dock tails, tape two ice cream containers to the cradle near the rings. Before the sheep are mulesed (if done at marking) and the tail is docked, score the breech wrinkle for each lamb.  

If your lambs have their tails taken off, toss the tails one side for any sheep that are score 1, 2 or 3, and to the other side for score 4 and 5. Alternatively, toss a rubber ring into one or other of the ice cream containers (you can still use them later after assessing a sample of the lambs).  

You don’t need to do this for the whole lot—ideally about 10% of the mob or at least 50 lambs. Practice with the first pen of lambs to get your eye in (and till you are remembering to toss tails or rings in the right direction!), and then do it properly for the next 50 (or 10%) lambs. 

Plan now for weaner worm management

In all moderate to high rainfall areas a drench for lambs at weaning should be mandatory.

In summer rainfall areas, you should now be preparing low worm-risk paddocks for weaners. In fact, this preparation is best started when lambing commences as paddocks take 3 months to prepare in cooler regions and 2 months in hot regions. In these regions, if using Barbervax, the second injection V2 would be given mid way to weaning and V3 will coincide with weaning.

In the winter rainfall regions it is common for the first summer drench to coincide with weaning.

Get your lambs off to a good start with best practices at lamb marking, especially targeting worm and flystrike control.