Marking Spring Lambs

Spring is a glorious time on the Rock Farm.  Blossoms are on the trees, the slow combustion stove is finally allowed to go out and is laid up for summer, and lambs are frolicking in the paddocks.

These gorgeous animals require little in the way of health and welfare checks – but even such low maintenance sheep as Wiltipolls require some intervention.  And when the city cousins come to stay, it provides the perfect opportunity to bring in the lambs.

It is always a good idea to stay abreast of best practice – particularly for something we only do once a year.  After a quick brush up on the animal welfare standards, we were ready to go.  The standards are available online at:   http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/sheep/

Marking lambs is a necessary part of raising sheep.  The lambs receive important vaccinations and are drenched.  The males are castrated, and all lambs have their tails docked.  All the other sheep receive vaccination boosters and are drenched too.

We use rubber bands to castrate the males and dock the tails.  This is the most humane and cost effective option available to hobby farmers.

The vaccine we chose prevents clostridial diseases in cattle and sheep such as Tetanus.  These diseases are frequently fatal.  They are caused by anaerobic bacteria and are widespread in the environment – especially in the soil.  Protection is provided when all the herd is vaccinated.

We also drenched the sheep with a triple combination drench.  The product we chose provides protection against gastro-intestinal roundworms, lungworm, Nasal Bot and Itch Mite.  It also provides important trace minerals such as selenium and cobalt, often deficient in Australian spoil.

Cell grazing is another technique to reduce the worm burden in sheep or other livestock.  Whilst I would love to develop a cell grazing system on the Rock Farm, this requires a significant investment in fencing and is still a few years away at this stage.

The final job was to put an ear tag in our lambs.  These tags are marked with our unique Property Identification Code (PIC), and will stay on these lambs for life.  This, in combination with movement declarations, ensures a full audit trail for livestock movements in Australia.  The ear tags are also colour coded, and 2017 lambs will wear a white ear tag, allowing easy identification and sorting of stock based on age.

A couple of likely lads also decided to take a couple of tags.  They politely declined my offer to put a tag in their ears, but did agree to marking their hats!

And so our marking was quickly over.  We let the sheep settle in the yards for a couple of hours with some delicious oats before we released them back into their paddock.  All done – until next year 🙂

Lamb Marking

With The Rock Farm’s new lambs quickly growing, we had a well timed visit from the cousins to help with marking duties.  Marking was our first opportunity to check on the health and welfare of the lambs.
Marking is when you give the lambs their all important vaccinations, place an ear tag in their ear and dock their tails.  As an added bonus the boys are also castrated.

As our sheep shed their wool, we don’t need to mules them, however we do need to check for fly strike.

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Can you pick the odd one out?  One fellow here is a first cross lamb from last spring.

With a bucket of feed, and a couple of kids on foot, the sheep were soon mustered in the yards.  The advantages of teaching them to come when called and to follow a bucket (bucket mustering) is worth it for the ease and stress free nature of  mustering, for both man and beast.

It has been a while since I have marked lambs, and then never many at once.  A firm believer in learning from the collective knowledge of those gone before, I had a quick read through the excellent  NSW DPI handbooks (http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/content/agriculture/livestock/sheep) and the Producers Guide to Sheep Husbandry Practices published by the Meat and Livestock Association (ww.makingmorefromsheep.com.au/_literature_129885/Sheep_Husbandry_Practices). It was time to get the job done.

The ewes look on anxiously whilst we take care of their babies.

My main aim when marking is like any farmer. To make the process as quick and painless as possible.  We used lamb marking rubber rings to castrate the males and dock their tails.  These rings essentially cut off circulation to the relevant bits.  I think it is more humane than the older methods that used a knife to achieve the same aim.

With such small numbers of animals, we adapted an old set of cattle yards for our purposes.  A run of chicken wire effectively secured them in the yards.  One of the cousins was employed as gate keeper, allowing only caught lambs into the main yard for marking.  He also took turns at catching lambs.

Lambs will sit quietly if held sitting upright.  With no cradle to hold the lambs, my brother kindly offered his services. You will note that The Little Fisherman has it sorted in the photo above, unlike the The Little Helper in the photo below who didn’t hold on to his lamb properly.  As a result he was having a bit of fun holding on to it whilst it waited its turn.


Marking is usually the first  opportunity to confirm lamb numbers.  Out of our 14 ewes, we had 16 lambs, with an even split of boys and girls.  We had lost one ewe and one lamb a few weeks earlier. Despite this loss, I was really pleased with the overall result.  Healthy happy sheep.

The ear tags are all marked with our unique Property Identification Code (PIC).  This means that all sheep that leave our property can be traced back to The Rock Farm on the National Lifestock Identification System database.  Each year a new colour ear tag is applied, to allow quick identification of the animal’s age.  For 2016 lambs, the colour is black.

To prove the sheep held no grudges, I turned up with a bucket the next day in the paddock, and they all came running, despite the green grass of Spring.  They will get another vaccination booster in four weeks or so, and then they will be good to turn grass into meat!

Special thanks to my brother and his wonderful kids who did a great job helping on the Rock Farm.  Also to the little photographers who took many photos whilst my hands were full! We loved having everyone visit for the school holidays 🙂