Naturally short tails in SRS Merinos
Tail docking can be optional rather than standard practice for Merino breeders wanting to differentiate their flocks and wool on easy care and animal welfare grounds.
Dr. Jim Watts and the Mudford family from Parkdale SRS Poll Merino Stud, Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia, (www.parkdalesrs.net.au) have successfully used genetic selection to breed naturally short tail Merinos that do not need tail docking (photo 1).
Having woolly short tails does not present any management issues in Parkdale Merinos as these 18 months old ewes in 10 months wool demonstrate. There are no dags or breech urine stain.
This is the first time in the modern era that short tail Merinos have been bred. It demonstrates that there are more genetic tools available for the Merino industry in Australia to tap into to address perennial issues such as tail docking and mulesing.
Breeding for short tails and non mulesing in a productive Merino sheep demonstrates how stud breeders and scientists thinking outside the square for genetic trait improvement can open up new welfare and management opportunities for the Merino industry.
The short tailed ram, Parkdale 270 (photo 2) has a great carcase. One of his sons, PD 1395, is exceptional for wool fibre density (95.7 follicles per mm2) and wool fibre length (0.52 mm per day) and fineness (16.5 microns).
Photo 3 shows one of the short tailed ewes with short tailed lambs. The short tailed sheep have excellent muscular control which allows the tail to be elevated clear of the urine stream. The under-surface and sides of the tail are mostly free of wool.
The next cross of these half tail lengths gives progeny with half this tail length again; equivalent to a tail ending slightly below the tip of the vulva in ewes.
It is very important that Merino breeders throughout Australia move quickly and breed sheep that neither require mulesing or tail docking. These are breeding solutions that are easily introduced to sheep flocks.