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Home > Sheep & Wool > Animal Welfare > Water, Shade, Shelter and Climate

Code of Recommendations and Minimum Standards for the Welfare of Sheep

Other Husbandry Practices


Sheep must not be tethered unless they can be adequately monitored. The techniques used to restrain sheep should not cause injury or unnecessary distress. Sheep should not be kept isolated from other sheep any longer than necessary. Sufficient feed and water must be available at all times.

Cast Sheep

Sheep in full wool, especially if heavily pregnant, are liable to become cast, particularly on flat country. Cast sheep become distressed and can die within a short time if not rolled back into a normal position. When back on their feet they may need to be supported for a few minutes before release to ensure they are steady.


Before mating commences rams should be healthy and their feet in good condition. Harnesses fitted to mark ewes should fit comfortably and be inspected frequently to ensure that they do not cause skin chafing.


The main cause of neonatal lamb mortality is starvation and/or hypothermia and/or mismothering (failure of the ewe to bond with her lambs). Keeping losses to a minimum entails forward planning and appropriate supervision and shelter during the lambing period. Provision should also be made for appropriate feed during pregnancy so that ewes are in good body condition at lambing.

In the most extensive farming systems, it is strongly recommended that breeds or strains be used which normally lamb successfully without assistance.

For intensively farmed flocks, more frequent shepherding is needed during the lambing period.

Dogs used during lambing must be under strict control.

Breeding from Young Ewes

If ewes are to be mated before they are a year old they should be well grown for their breed, well fed during winter and carefully supervised at lambing.

Use of sire breeds with relatively low single lamb birth weights is recommended.

Unwanted mating of ewe lambs should be avoided by running them separately from all fertile male sheep from the time they are about four months old.

Fostering/Artificial Rearing

If a ewe seems unable to raise her lamb(s) successfully, they should be fostered onto other ewes if possible, hand-reared or humanely killed.

The fostering process should cause as little distress as possible. Lambs should be removed if the process is not succeeding.


As a general rule lambs should not be weaned before 6 to 8 weeks of age.

To minimise distress, groups of newly weaned ewes and lambs should be out of sight and sound of each other.

Tail Docking

The docking of lambs’ tails is carried out to help prevent faecal dag formation and flystrike and to facilitate shearing.


If tails are to be docked, the procedure should be carried out before the lambs are 6 weeks of age and must be carried out before they reach 12 weeks of age unless the procedure is carried out by a veterinarian using anaesthesia.


New Zealand research indicates that to minimise stress in the lambs, the techniques of choice for tail docking are the application of a rubber ring or the use of a hot searing iron.

Length of Tail

There is some evidence to indicate that the rubber ring should be placed so that the tail is left long enough to cover the vulva and the equivalent length in males. This helps prevent faecal contamination of wool and blowfly strike.


Castration is traditionally carried out for management reasons to prevent unintended mating. It should not be carried out unless it results in significant management advantages.


It is strongly recommended that if rubber rings are used the lambs should be under 12 weeks old, and if surgical castration is carried out, the lambs should be under 6 weeks old, unless these procedures are carried out by a veterinarian using anaesthesia.


The best method of lamb castration is the application of a rubber ring to the neck of the scrotum using an elastrator. Surgical castration by lay people is not recommended.

Mustering and Yarding

Sheep should not be yarded for periods of more than 24 hours unless feed and water are provided.

Sheds and yards must be designed, constructed and maintained to minimise the risk of injury to sheep.

If sheep are moved on foot they must not be forced to proceed at a pace likely to cause exhaustion and heat stress.

Dogs should not be used excessively. Dogs which bite repeatedly must be muzzled when in use.


When a sheep has been injured and appears to be distressed, in pain or handicapped as a result, immediate steps must be taken to provide relief. If the injury is so severe that it would be cruel to keep the sheep alive, euthanasia must be carried out (see Humane slaughter)

Crutching, Dagging and Face-Wool Removal (Eye Wigging)

Wool under and to either side of the anus can become laden by clumps of wet or dried faeces (faecal dags). These dags should be trimmed off.

Wool growing around the eyes of sheep should be trimmed if it obscures their vision.

Before lambing, wool around the udder should be trimmed if necessary to allow the lamb unimpeded access to the teats. Wool around the vulva should be trimmed to facilitate lambing.


It is strongly recommended that sheep be shorn at least once a year.

Shearing sheds and equipment must have regular maintenance checks.

Shearing must be carried out skilfully and/or carefully to ensure that shear cuts are kept to a minimum. Extensive or severe cuts must be treated as soon as possible.

The use of cover combs or blade shears is strongly recommended in districts in which there is little or no natural shelter and in areas subject to very cold weather.

Pre-lamb Shearing

If pre-lamb shearing is to be carried out 4 to 6 weeks before lambing, effective shelter must be available. The ewes must be well fed because if they are hungry they may graze rather than shelter with their lambs. The use of blade shears, cover or snow combs is strongly recommended.

Marking and Tagging

Marking to aid identification of the sheep may involve applying raddle in the form of chalk, crayon or spray. This is the least stressful means of identification and is the recommended practice for short-term identification.

Permanent marking can involve removing a portion of the ear. This is not recommended unless there is no practical alternative method. The amount of tissue removed must not exceed a fifth of the ear.

The number of ear tags should be kept to a minimum, preferably not more than two per sheep.

Lambs should not be tagged within 24 hours of birth because of the risk of mismothering. If it is important to identify newborn lambs, a temporary raddle mark should be applied and every effort made to minimise disturbance of ewe and lamb.


Most New Zealand sheep are naturally polled and in horned breeds there is usually no valid reason for disbudding or dehorning. However, if horns curl round in front of the eyes or are likely to grow into the head, partial or complete dehorning is necessary.

Removal of the insensitive horn tip may be carried out by a lay person, but it is strongly recommended that cutting into sensitive tissue in the core of the horn be carried out only by or under the supervision of a veterinarian, using anaesthesia.

Teeth Clipping/Breaking

The crowns of the incisor teeth of lambs must not be forcibly removed by forceps, pliers or any other instrument.

Preparation of Sheep for Meat Processing Plants

There is a meat processing plant (licensed to slaughter premises) requirement that sheep are presented clean for slaughter, i.e. clean and free of dags. Their wool should be 10 mm to 20 mm long.

Prior to transport, sheep should be held off pasture for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight but for no longer than 24 hours, with access to drinking water.

Transport of Injured and Pregnant Stock

The farmer or delegated sheep manager is responsible for the selection of fit and healthy sheep for loading onto road vehicles. If they are unable to stand on all four legs or are so injured that transport is likely to increase any pain they may be experiencing they are unfit to travel. They must be treated or killed humanely on the farm (see Injuries).

Sheep that are likely to give birth during transportation must not be transported.

Feedlots and Housing

Sheep in feedlots or kept indoors should be provided with sufficient good quality feed and water to maintain optimal body condition, be examined at least once daily and given appropriate treatment if losing weight or becoming ill.


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