Re: tail docking- I didn't know until recently that sheep are born with tails? Why do people dock sheep tails?
In Australia we dock Merino sheep tails, and perform mulesing at a few weeks old because we have
Lucilia cuprina, a pretty coloured fly with maggots that make a not-so-pretty mess of sheep.
These flies are ubiquitous, they are everywhere in Australia and they cause huge problems. The flies lay their eggs on damp sheep wool, but the maggots will eat both diseased and healthy flesh. The maggots will eat sheep alive.
Short of widespread insecticide use, which doesn’t really control the problem well and has environmental concerns, the most effective method for reducing flystrike in sheep (the maggot infestation) is reducing the amount of moisture that accumulates on the wool. However, even in the driest regions of Australia, sheep will still urinate and develop diarrhea, which moistens regions of their wool.
Crutching sheep, where a small amount of wool is short regularly around their anus/vulva to keep it short and clean, certainly can help, but this is most effective in breeds that are relatively smooth skinned, and in smaller enterprises were it’s easier to round up those sheep on a regular basis.
Particularly in the case of Merinos in Australia, with the wrinkly skin around their bottoms, Mulesing is performed to cut this skin off, letting it heal with scar tissue. That’s as rough as it sounds, but it’s necessary to prevent fly strike and death-by-maggots in the sheep’s life.
There have been increasing access and push for pain relief to be used for this procedure, and there are some smooth-skinned lines, or lines of merino with no wool on the perineum. Genetic Mulesing would be ideal, because then no painful procedure would need to be done to the sheep, but there were only 7 Merino originally identified with this trait, and spreading their genetics through the approximately 70 million of Australia…well, it will take time.
So the short answer is that for now these sheep have their tails docked and are Mulesed to prevent being eaten alive by maggots, though the procedure and current husbandry is not ideal and I would prefer to eventually see a genetic solution.