Major meat processor and exporter Alliance Group is fronting a research project on lamb tail docking, as overseas buyers call for evidence that animal welfare is not at risk.
Trials will be carried out to examine the effects of docking on lamb growth, carcass weight and meat yields, and the effect different tail lengths have on lamb productivity, economic returns and animal welfare.
Alliance is funding the $55,000 to $60,000 three-year trial with the Ministry of Primary Industries, British supermarket Sainsbury's and Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
Alliance livestock general manager Murray Behrent said the research would shed more light on the consequences of docking lamb tails at different lengths or leaving them intact. He said the final results in 2014 should provide farmers with information to make informed decisions on the best docking practice for their farms within minimum lengths.
The lack of available research was leaving them vulnerable to criticism by international markets, he said.
"The first part is there is the animal welfare issue and the expectation from overseas consumers [for] the way they are handled and treated. Part of this is to meet our animal welfare rules as well."
He said the expectation that tails should be longer needed further research.
"It's all very well having long tails, but in the New Zealand environment there is the the fly strike issue and dags."
Fly strike is a major cost to the sheep industry and painful for animals, with docking a preventive measure. However, there is limited objective research on the benefits, or otherwise, of the common practice.
The first trial will be held at the Riverton property of farmer supplier Euan Templeton to look at different docking practices or no docking on lamb growth, carcass weight and yield. In another trial different tail lengths will be studied in Mid-Canterbury and Southland for lamb productivity, economic returns and lamb welfare.
Lambs will be weighed during docking, weaning and the slaughter process. Their dags will also be scored during weaning and slaughter while fly strike will be recorded before crutching or spray treatment.
Alliance plans on working with shearing gangs and tailing contractors in the trials.
Behrent said it was important Alliance front-footed animal welfare, as buyers had to be comfortable with the meat they were eating.
"UK retailers have always said our lambs are tailed too short. We thought we would be proactive and get some independent results."
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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