Sheep 5-Year Code Review

The sheep Code was released in 2013.  A review was completed by a Code Technical Panel in 2020. 

The Code Technical Panel’s recommendation for the sheep Code of Practice is: Code be reaffirmed.

*Proposed timeline for a Code update: 2023.

The Code Technical Panel identified minor (can live with for now) or moderate (need to be addressed at some point) challenges within the current sheep Code, along with additional research priorities.

Minor Challenges

  • Ambiguity in the wording around tail docking length.
  • Defining shelter. Often interpreted as a building, however Code allows for vegetation, objects, landscape as appropriate shelter.

Moderate Challenges

  • Lack of access/options to drugs for pain control. Need both more products and more products labelled for use in sheep. Need a well-established pain model, recognized by Health Canada, to help pharmaceutical companies with registration.
  • Canada needs more research and guidance with respect to confinement housing systems for sheep, including flooring systems, airborne particulate from feeding, and bedding systems in confined housing.
  • The Code Technical Panel compiled a list of areas where the Code could be enhanced during the 10-year Code update, including:
    • Add to section 1.1.1: Preamble; more emphasis on the role of heat stress in mortality,
    • Add to section 1.1.1: Requirements; caution when transporting animals between two locations with significantly different temperatures,
    • Add to section 1.1.1: Preamble; when providing shade, take measures to reduce or eliminate the risk of manure accumulation in shaded areas. Consider building shelters that can be easily cleaned,
    • Emphasis on the implications of heat stress during transportation (note: by the time of the sheep Code’s next update the Transport Code will be complete, consider cross-referencing),
    • Add to 2.1.1: Preamble; importance of ventilation in shelters,
    • Add to Section 2.1.4: Preamble; emphasize impact of bedding quality on the risk of disease (i.e., navel ill, scours, pneumonia, mastitis). Include risks of poor bedding.  Requirements; keep bedding clean and dry, change frequently,
    • Add a Section on Mastitis, either in Health Management or Husbandry Practices,
    • Add to Section 5.1 Preamble; the value of acclimation to handling, new environments and restraints. Include ultrasound cages in the list of handling equipment,
    • Add to Section 2.1: Preamble; wording relative to freshly shorn sheep and their hesitancy on slatted floors. (only freshly shorn, 3-weeks they adapt/regrowth),
    • Add to Chapter 5: Preamble; New staff should be trained by experienced stockperson / receive appropriate training. *ensure they receive appropriate training on animal husbandry practices especially tail docking,
    • Consider developing/adding staff training program/protocols,
    • Revise Section 5.7 “Docked tails must cover the vulva in ewes and the equivalent length in rams. Tails must be docked no shorter than the distal end of the caudal fold”: Revise to consolidate two sentences, focus on caudal fold but must long enough to cover vulva in ewes. Along the lines of ‘At minimum must cover the vulva and the caudal fold must be visible,
    • Add to Section 5.7: Preamble; add reference to increased risk of bacterial arthritis and tail docking to the introduction, considerations for tail docking. Citation 46,
    • Add to Section 1.1.2: Preamble; Impacts of heavy wet snow and prolonged periods of cold rain on hypothermia in adult animals. Requirements; add Hypothermia consideration for adult animals. Recommendations; for overhead protection from heavy wet snow and prolonged periods of cold rain, as well as heat,
    • Add to Section 5.11: Preamble; Emphasize the importance of genetics, lamb size, and rations as contributing factors to dystocia. Recommended practices; add the importance of tracking instances of dystocia by ewe and flock,
    • Add to Section 5.11-Lambing: Recommended practices; add specifics around when to intervene during lambing. Add reference as appendix. (see Irena Wenger presentation),
    • Add to Section 5.11:
      • Preamble:
        • Emphasize difference between artificial colostrum vs milk differences,
        • Stress that local colostrum sources are better than further away,
        • Cite these research pieces in noting that bovine colostrum and milk replacer may in fact be a better option than SR sources both from a performance and disease risk mitigation standpoint,
        • Value of ewe colostrum above artificial for the inoculation value,
        • Follow instructions carefully.
    • Requirements: Reverse ‘All milk replacers used for lambs four weeks of age or younger must have been formulated for lambs.’, as the research supports the value of bovine colostrum and milk, and the CFIA limits use of SR sources in disease risk-mitigation programs (disease risk associated with sourcing SR colostrum and milk from other flocks).
    • Include content for:
      • For confinement facilities: look for specific recommendations for “jugs” to promote mothering behavior,
      • Ensure its clear that ‘jug’ requirements not required in all settings.
  • Add to Section 5.11 Neonatal Care: Preamble; emphasis on monitoring first-time lambers and multiple births for mismothering, starvation, and signs of weakness. Preamble; note the role of genetics in mismothering and suggest importance of scoring and tracking ewes for mismothering (conversely, maternal) traits. Recommended practices; emphasize need to monitor multiple births for issues in “e”,
  • Add to Section 5.11: Preamble and reference appendix; cross-fostering guidance from the UK and Australia,
  • Add to Section 7.2: recommend elaborating in Table 7.1 that animals euthanized with barbiturates can not go to rendering, or biogas plants and should not be buried. (Currently states: “Carcass is toxic; safe disposal is required) Emphasize risk of being dug up, ground/environmental contamination.

Additional Research Priorities

Original research priorities identified during the sheep Code’s development were posted in 2013 and can be found at:

During the Code review conducted in 2020 the Code Technical Panel identified additional animal welfare research needs as follows:

  • influence of breed on the need for shade,
  • portable shelter and role in managing coccidiosis,
  • more research needed on CO2 and ammonia recommendations referenced in 11,
  • impacts of airborne particulate from feed methods and equipment, implication on respiratory and eye health,
  • more research on flooring types in feedlots and confinement housing,
  • need better solutions for keeping manure away from sheep in confinement settings,
  • more research and approvals of animal health and pain management products,
  • guidelines for infrastructure to protect against exposure to heavy, wet snow,
  • risk of hypothermia when exposed to heavy, wet snow by wool type,
  • implications of castration on ‘water bellies’ in lambs as in cattle,
  • further research review on welfare implications of wethers and rams fighting in feedlots,
  • further research on behavioural implications of castration,
  • further research on feeder lambs on performance and carcass quality,
  • further research on immunocastration of lambs. Would also need product approved,
  • consumer concerns/perception of immunocastration and possible acceptance. Look to the pig example,
  • research on ewe longevity and, ewe and lamb health in accelerated lambing systems,
  • research needed to compare difference between “bottle feeding” these nursery lambs versus the “automated milk feeders” for nursery lambs on health/growth/welfare (and spread of disease e.g. orf),
  • which lambs should be removed from “mom” if mom doesn’t have enough milk and has too many babies – should one remove the larger stronger lambs and put in nursery or remove the smaller lambs and put in nursery,
  • research on survivability of larger vs smaller lambs removed from ewes.