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Sheep - Codes of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock




42 All fields and buildings should be kept clear of debris such as wire or plastic which could be harmful to sheep.

43 When sheep are outdoors in winter, and particularly when fed on root crops, they should be either allowed to run back to pasture or to a straw bedded area which gives a more comfortable lying area, as well as limiting the build up of mud or dung on the fleece. Where there is no natural shelter for the sheep, artificial shelter, such as the placement of straw bales, should be provided.

Schedule 1, paragraph 17 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2000 (S.S.I. 2000 No. 442) states that:

  • Animals not kept in buildings must, where necessary and possible, be given protection from adverse weather conditions, predators and risks to their health and, at all times, have access to a well-drained lying area.


44 Permanent marking of sheep by, for example, ear tattoing or tagging, should be carried out only by a skilled stockman using properly maintained instruments. Ear tags used should be suitable for use in sheep. Wherever possible marking should not be undertaken during the fly season . If marking does have to be carried out during the fly season, farmers should take measures which will prevent or reduce the threat of fly strike. Where, for flock management purposes, ear marking is by notching or punching, this should be done using proprietary equipment. If horned breeds of sheep are to be marked for flock management purposes, horn branding is to be preferred.

45 Aerosols or paints used for temporary marking should be non-toxic.


46 All sheep farmers should have easily operated and efficient handling pens, to facilitate routine management and treatment, on a size and scale to suit the flock numbers. Pens and floors should be maintained in good repair and should not have any sharp edges or projections which might injure sheep.

47 When sheep are to be transported, well-designed collecting, loading and unloading facilities should be available on the farm. It is helpful if the sheep are familiar with these handling pens in order to minimise stress levels.

48 Sheep should not be caught by the fleece alone. They should be handled or restrained by means of a hand or an arm under the neck (holding the neck wool, if necessary) with the other arm placed on or around the rear. Lifting or dragging sheep by the fleece, tail, ears, horns or legs is unacceptable. Care should be taken with horns which may be broken off if sheep are roughly handled.

49 Devices such as raddles, harnesses, tethers and yokes should be of suitable material and should be properly fitted and adjusted to avoid causing injury or discomfort. They should be checked regularly and should not be used for longer than necessary. Tethering by the horns is unacceptable.

fencing & hedges

50 Fences and hedges should be well maintained so as to avoid injury to sheep and prevent entanglement. Where any type of mesh fencing is used, particularly for horned sheep, and around lambing fields, it should be checked frequently so that any animals which are caught can be released.

51 Electric fences should be designed, installed, used and maintained so that contact with them does not cause more than momentary discomfort to the sheep. Electric mesh fencing should not be used for horned sheep.


52 Every mature sheep should have its fleece removed at least once a year.

53 Shearers should be experienced, competent and have received adequate training in shearing techniques. Inexperienced shearers should be supervised by suitably competent staff. When shearing, care should be taken not to cut the skin of the sheep. Where a wound does occur, immediate treatment should be given.

54 Shearers and all contractors should clean and disinfect their equipment between flocks to minimise the risk of spreading disease.

55 Full use should be made of weather forecasts and shelter to avoid excessive cold stress to newly-shorn sheep at whatever time of year shearing is carried out.

56 Winter shearing is not a suitable practice unless the sheep are housed.

57 Sheep which were shorn and housed in winter should only be turned out to grass in spring when the fleece has regrown to 15-20mm in length and when weather conditions are favourable. Where adequate natural shelter is not available, other means should be adopted, such as the provision of straw bales.


58 Farmers and shepherds should consider carefully whether castration is necessary within any particular flock. Castration is unlikely to be necessary where lambs will be finished and sent to slaughter before reaching sexual maturity. The procedure should only be carried out when lambs are likely to be retained after puberty and where it is necessary to avoid welfare problems associated with the management of entire males.

59 Account should be taken not only of the pain and distress caused by castration but also the stress imposed by gathering and handling and the potential risk of infection. For very young lambs gathered in large groups there is real risk of mismothering which may lead ultimately to starvation and death.

60 Castration should not be performed on lambs until the ewe/lamb bond has become established.

61 Castration may only be carried out in strict accordance with the law (see box below). The procedure should be performed by a competent, trained operator. Once a lamb is over three months of age, castration may only be performed by a veterinary surgeon using a suitable anaesthetic. Shepherds should only carry out surgical castration after having first considered and ruled out alternative methods, in discussion with their veterinary surgeon.

Under the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1954, as amended, it is an offence to castrate lambs which have reached three months of age without the use of an anaesthetic. Furthermore, the use of a rubber ring, or other device to restrict the flow of blood to the scrotum or tail, is only permitted without an anaesthetic if the device is applied during the first week of life.

Under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, as amended, only a veterinary surgeon may castrate a lamb which has reached the age of three months.

tail docking

62 Farmers and shepherds should consider carefully whether tail docking within a particular flock is necessary. Tail docking may be carried out only if failure to do so would lead to subsequent welfare problems because of dirty tails and potential fly strike. If it is considered that both tail docking and castration are necessary, thought should be given to performing both operations at the one time of handling, so as to minimise disruption and the potential for mis-mothering and distress.

63 Tail docking must be carried out only in strict accordance with the law (see box below and that following paragraph 61). The procedure should be performed by a competent, trained operator.

The Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) Regulations 1982 ( SI 1982 No 1884), as amended by the Welfare of Livestock (Prohibited Operations) (Amendment) Regulations 1987 ( SI 1987 No 114) prohibit penis amputation and other penile operations, tooth grinding, freeze dagging and short-tail docking of sheep unless sufficient tail is retained to cover the vulva in the case of female sheep and the anus in the case of male sheep.

tooth grinding

64 Tooth grinding of sheep is prohibited by law (see box following paragraph 63)

electro-immobilisation, vasectomy & electro-ejaculation

65 The electro immobilisation of sheep is prohibited by law. Vasectomy or electro-ejaculation may be carried out only by a veterinary surgeon.

Schedule 1 paragraph 30 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2000 (S.S.I. 2000 No. 442) states that:

  • No person may apply an electrical current to any animals for the purpose of immobilisation.

The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, as amended by the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (Schedule 3 Amendment) Order 1988 (S.I. 1988 No. 526) prohibits the performance of a vasectomy or the carrying out of electro-ejaculation by anyone other than a veterinary surgeon.

dehorning or disbudding

66 Dehorning or disbudding of a sheep by lay persons is against the law, except for the trimming of ingrowing horn in certain circumstances (see box below). Horned sheep especially rams should be regularly inspected to ensure that neither the tip or other part of the horn is in contact with the face.

Under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, as amended, only a veterinary surgeon may dehorn or disbud a sheep, apart from trimming the insensitive tip of an ingrowing horn which, if left untreated, could cause pain or distress.