Tetanus shots for Lambs--Docking & Castrating

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We have five Suffolk lambs (two ewes) born about ten days ago. I would appreciate feedback on both my questions and assumptions below. I'm a novice.

We understand it is best to dock the tails and castrate the males as early as possible. One of our books, though, claimed we should give tetanus shots two weeks before docking or castrating. Any thoughts?

In administering the tetanus shots, are there any tips? We've usually had others do this for us, but want to become more self-sufficient. I've done it once before, but don't remember how I did it. What part of the body do I stick the needle into? How far? How much of the vaccine do I inject? When do I do it?

We plan to keep one of the two females for increasing our flock. The three males and one of the females will be slaughtered/butchered next winter/spring.

I have a tool for docking and castrating by banding (I'm not sure this is the right terminology). I also bought a different tool for simply cutting the tail off immediately. I'm rather squeamish about castrating with this, though. Are there any suggestions?

-- Jonathan Lindvall (Lindvall@BoldChristianLiving.com), March 19, 2000


Hi Jonathan,

We don't immunize so I can't help you there. We also use a bander for tails and castrating. We only remove tails on the sheep we sell. We have had very good luck with the banding. We do tails at a few days and castrate a bit later. My sister lost a kid goat to shock when using a cutting tool for castration. Good luck.

-- kim (fleece@eritter.net), March 19, 2000.

Hi Kim. We'd love to avoid immunizing. (I'd actually love to avoid docking & castrating, too.) But the books we've read seem to indicate this is dangerous. Why don't you immunize? My wife suggested that it might be that the immunization impacts the meat negatively. Is this possible?

-- Jonathan Lindvall (Lindvall@BoldChristianLiving.com), March 19, 2000.


It's just a personal preference for us. We don't want to introduce toxins into our animals. I know that our view is by far the minority and I wouldn't suggest anyone else do it without researching the whole immunization issue for themselves.

We try to raise our animals as naturally as possible. Sheep have tails, why remove them???? In England they were raised for many many years without their tails being removed. Look at some paintings by the old Masters to see some really beautiful sheep. I believe that there is a Constable for example that shows mature sheep with tails. Docking tails is something that came about to increase efficiency and out of a need for cleanliness in confined rearing. Our sheep range, stay quite clean on their own unless we goof and feed too much grain or something dumb. If we develop problems using this system we will change.

As for castrating, again we only do it if we have to. Markets pretty much demand it. We are raising our first uncastrated male now to either sell as a ram lamb (he is pure bred RAmbouillet and an excellent looking little guy) or to eat ourselves. We've heard that rams have a stronger flavour, but dont' yet know if that is true.

Good luck in whatever you decided Jonathan. These are all personal choices and the best any of us can do is read, ask questions and make the most educated choices we can. Just remember that status quo isn't always the best route and that industrial agriculture gives us many of our common practices. That's not always the best route for a homesteader. Cheers - Kim

-- kim (fleece@eritter.net), March 19, 2000.

I would suggest that if you are going to dock tails that you do it soon. We dock at 2-3 days old, just waiting to see if the lambs are strong and no immediate problems.We band them and it's easier on the lambs, and us, too, at that time. We put our lambs and ewes in a jug (special confinement pen) for a day or two to make sure they are bonding. The first time I banded tails, I came in the house and cried. It seemed tough on the lambs. However, they get feeling better in a couple of hours. The tails fall off in a couple of weeks or so.

If you are banding to castrate, you should wait until the testicles have descended all the way into the scrotum, which is usually 10-14 days old or so. Make sure you get both of them. I am not very knowledgeable on this subject. You might refer to "Raising Sheep the Modern Way" or some other good sheep book.

We give shots subcutaneously at a couple of different sites: in the "armpit" which is good if there's a lot of fleece on an adult...less fleece there. And sometimes on the skin of the neck, down toward the shoulder. A good livestock book will show you how to do this.

Good luck. Our lambs aren't due for another couple of weeks. We bred really late this year. It's always an exciting, kind of sleepless time!

-- sheepish (rborgo@gte.net), March 19, 2000.

Sheepish, I know how you feel about feeling bad! We always do too! One othe bit of advice Johnathon about castrating. Sheepish is right you need to make sure both testicles are descended. Even so when you release the band they can slip up. It's good to have a knife near by incase you have to cut the band and try again. It is painful for a bit but the lambs will soon be bounding around oblivious to it all!

Sheepish, boy I can relate to the sleepless nights at lambing time. We have mostly rambouillet but one old dependable suffolk ewe who always gives us triplets. This year my husband and I got up every two hours the night we knew she was going to lamb. Dear old soul delivered all 3 no problems at the respectable hour of 6:30AM! We could have had a good nights sleep.


-- kim (fleece@eritter.net), March 19, 2000.

Jonathan, we have no choice but to use vaccinations. Tetanus is a killer here in the south. It has nothing to do with management, it is airborn. If you don't vaccinated you will loose stock, here. The point of management is to be consistent. If you vaccinate your ewe's with a CD&T (2cc under the skin) about 3 weeks before they kid, you will then boost her colostrum's anitbiodies, and her kids will have these naturally accuring antibiodies in their system. If you have not vaccinated the ewe, then you can give Tetanus Antitoxin (it comes in 1500 unit vials, and is 3 shots) this will give your babies immediate protection from Tetanus, you will at the same time give CD&T, this T for Tetanus is a Toxoid, which takes about 2 weeks to build up immunity, on the other side as a second shot. The CD&T is then given as a booster 21 days later, same 2cc shot, same subQ. If you use 3cc syringes, with 22 gauge by 1" is what I use, you will pull up the skin, like a pinch, and then give the shot under this tent of skin you form with the pinch. Always aspirate (pull back on the plunger) before you give the shot, if you have blood in the syringe just go to another site. Good luck with you sheep...Vicki

-- Vicki McGaugh (vickilonesomedoe@hotmail.com), March 19, 2000.

Yeah, that sleepless night thing...we have a baby monitor (radio shack cheapo model) out in the barn, and we leave it on. I have the other monitor next to the bed, and during lambing I check it every two hours (set the alarm). We listen to hear if there's any bawling (hungry lamb) but also to hear any pawing around (restless ewe) etc. That monitor is powerful...we can hear owls and stuff a mile away. We do barn checks every 2 hours also. My husband always gets the 1 am and 5 am checks, and invariably the lambs are just on the ground around 5! So why keep checking before!! However, our first year, we had a stillborn, and 2 lambs that I needed to reposition and assist out. What a way to start learning! I hope everyone had a good lambing season, and hope and pray that ours goes well, too. And that the coffee is hot!

-- sheepish (rborgo@gte.net), March 19, 2000.

This was our first year for lambing, too, quite by accident, as we started with two bottle babies last year, and a year old sheltand ewe. Kept them all together until the ram was 6 months old, then seperated them. Didn't realize he was able to impregnate them, but he did. We had no idea when to expect the lambs, and I think I about drove Marilyn crazy with lambing questions! Lost a lot of sleep when we knew the shetland was due to lamb at any time. She was so huge! The night I finally relaxed and figured it would be a while longer, and didn't go out for 3 hours, she had twins all on her own, and did fine. The other ewe is looking more pregnant by the day, and I'm hoping she has hers before we leave next Friday for a week in Florida with the Grandkids. Banded tails today, and both of the twins flopped around and acted like they were being killed for about an hour, but are fine now. Will castrate when we return from the trip. We will also do that with bands, as I haven't the heart to actually cut him, he is so little! The twins had totally differnt types of wool, the little ram has long (2"!) silky, curly wool, and the ewe has tight short wool like the rambouillet/suffolk father. They look like they came from two different mothers. Good luck everyone with the kids and lambs. They are really fun, and I have really appreciated the help from Marilyn and Gerbil and Sheepish! Jan

-- Jan (Janice12@aol.com), March 19, 2000.

Jonathon, the others are right about the earliest you can tail & castrate lambs, but you don't have to do it then. You can do both at the same time, later on. I'd advise using the bands - I can go into all kinds of gory detail about how to do it with a knife, but the fact is the bands are cleaner and less chance of infection, and I would think less painful (numbness versus ....). These days I'd only use a knife if I found a ram that had missed being done young, and was too big for the bands.

I'd suggest if you're going to kill one of your ewes, you consider breeding them both first. This would give you the chance to look at the performance in the area you're keeping them for, then cull. What if one is barren, or drops malformed lambs, OR on the other hand maybe one has twins or better? The mutton would still be young and tender from the one you then culled (at say age two years or thirty months).

-- Don Armstrong (darmst@yahoo.com.au), March 20, 2000.

I guess everybody has to do what works for them best-on the big sheep ranches,they much prefer to use the knife rather than the bands.If done correctly, the knife is actually a lot more merciful,and safer- IF it's not fly season.The bands have a few drawbacks,for one thing,they don't immediately numb the area,it hurts for quite awhile before it gets numb and until then the lambs are suffering.Then there is tetanus and maggots getting into the dying flesh,but what I hate about the bands is that I have seen several "wethers" that weren't wethered well enough. In fact,we bought one, a two year old 4-h pet that needs to be eaten.A while ago I was bending over to work on a fence when he came up and snorted and pawed at me like they do during breeding season.I turned and popped him lightly on the nose,and to my surprise,he then rammed into me and my year old baby very hard! Needless to say I had something to it him with the second time he came for me and now he is penned up alone until we eat him.Then we had a goat that was supposed to be a wether,and he bred his own mother.The point is,all kinds of unplanned things can occur when the animal you thought was a wether turns out to be intact enough to be aggressive or able to breed. With the knife there is no guessing.You have pulled both testicles out and seen them both and that animal is a wether and will stay that way! I have to admit that the first time using the knife is hard on the person doing it,but after that it gets easier.If you want to know more about using the knife method,feel free to e-mail me,I detailed the procedure some time ago on this forum so it should be in the sheep archives.Having said all this,I no longer castrate my goats,because of Leviticus 22:24-25. Although it could be argued that this law applies only to animals for offerings,it also says that the Israelites were not to practice castration on any animals or to buy castrated animals from neighboring gentiles.So we just sell the males for meat before they are old enough to breed the young does.

-- Rebekah (daniel1@transport.com), March 21, 2000.

My daughter has raised sheep for a few years now and we band tails and testicles and give shots on the 2nd - 3rd day. We have found this to be the least traumatic to the lambs. The shots need to be given again in 2-3 weeks. If the lamb is to be shown (4-H or FFA) then the best place to give shots is under the arm as occasionally it will cause a lump and this way it is hidden, otherwise neck or hips work for us.

We give CD&T as it is required for showing and in our area it is just safer. We have old fences that are rusty and the sheep get their share of nicks, etc.

Now that my daughter is going to go to college, the sheep are going to pay her tuition and I don't mind taking care of them while she is away as they really aren't any trouble - except at lambing time.

-- beckie (sunshine_horses@yahoo.com), March 21, 2000.

Hi Rebekah. Thanks for the response. I find your points quite compelling.

I haven't been able to find "sheep archives." (Can anyone help find these?) In any event, I would love to hear about the "knife method" (I think--actually, I have a pretty weak stomach, but have surprised myself by learning to do many things I thought I could never do).

I find scriptural arguments particularly compelling. I checked Deut. 22:24-25. I would tend to see this as a reference only to the burnt offerings. Can you give me references for your understanding "that the Israelites were not to practice castration on any animals or to buy castrated animals from neighboring gentiles?"

From a previous response about 6-month-old rams impregnating ewes, I'm worried the rams would breed their mother(s) and sister well before we were ready to slaughter. I assume this would not be healthy for the small (but growing) herd?

-- Jonathan Lindvall (Lindvall@BoldChristianLiving.com), March 21, 2000.

Just wanted to let everyone know--my husband bought me a camera for lambing this year--tiny thing--with sound too--just set it up in the barn and I could go into the living room look at the spare tv he set up there and see all the ewes. Could even hear everything going on from bed !! Wonderful--cost $88 and no shipping charges !! Not having to make those couple of trips to the barn in one night to check on mommas and it paid for itself !! Anyone interested let me know and I will give you the web page--all shopping done on line.

I vaccinate--dock tails and band my ram lambs too--have a strict schedule--also vaccinate the ewes 6 weeks before the first lambs are due--just makes sense to protect them. Vicki and I both know what lurks here in the south-everything!!

-- Lynn N. Johnson (lynn@wauka.com), May 12, 2000.

Jonathan, just a thought on castrating -- I agree with Rebekah that the knife is best, as long as the flies aren't bad yet. We used a new single-edged razor blade, though -- much sharper. And then used the iodine solution on them that we'd used for the umbilical cords after they were born. We were a little squeamish, too, the first time, but it really isn't bad, and the lambs didn't seem to suffer after we let them up. Haven't tried Rocky Mountain Oysters yet, though!! The tails can also be done with a knife, if you push the skin up towards the body so it will come back down and cover the wound when you are done. Again, use a disinfectant on it, and try to do it before fly season. I think this is better than having the dying tails hanging off the lamb for a couple of weeks.

-- Kathleen Sanderson (stonycft@worldpath.net), May 12, 2000.

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