Sheep code of practice

The code of practice about sheep is a mandatory code under the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001. It contains minimum acceptable standards of animal welfare for sheep. It applies to all ages and types of sheep, whether kept commercially or as a hobby.

The code of practice provides clear minimum standards of care including veterinary care and adequate provision of food, water and shelter which achieve a reasonable balance between the welfare of animals and the interests of persons whose livelihood is dependent on animals.

It addresses husbandry procedures such as castration, dehorning, tail docking and mulesing as well as regulating practices such as tethering animals and the use of dogs to manage sheep.

The code of practice about sheep is based on the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for sheep (sheep standards) agreed by State and Territories in 2016. The sheep standards have been developed in full consultation with animal industries, animal welfare groups, and relevant state and federal government bodies.

The code of practice about sheep:

  • provides for humane and considerate treatment of sheep, and the use of good husbandry practices to improve the welfare of sheep in all types of sheep farming enterprises
  • informs all people responsible for the care and management of sheep about their responsibilities
  • sets a minimum industry standard by defining acceptable sheep management practices.

The code of practice is not a comprehensive manual on how to care for sheep and does not provide detailed information such as diets or animal health regimes.

Key mandatory requirements for the welfare of sheep

Below are some key mandatory requirements listed in the code of practice about sheep; however you must refer to the code for the full list of requirements.

  • You must not undertake tail docking, castration and cryptorchid castration (retained testicles) on sheep that are more than 6 months old without using appropriate pain relief and haemorrhage control.
  • You must not undertake mulesing on sheep less than 24 hours old or more than 12 months old.
  • Use appropriate pain relief when mulesing sheep that are 6–12 months old.
  • You must not undertake mulesing on sheep showing signs of debilitating disease, weakness, insufficient body condition or poor growth rates (ill-thrift).
  • Only wool-bearing skin may be removed during mulesing.
  • Shear sheep at least once every 2 years unless their wool is self-shedding.
  • Take reasonable actions to ensure the welfare of sheep from extremes of weather (temperature or climatic conditions that individually or in combination are likely to predispose sheep to heat or cold stress), drought, fires, floods, disease and injury.
  • Only use a dog to assist in the control or movement of sheep if the dog is under effective control at all times. The dog must wear a muzzle if it habitually bites livestock.
  • You must not undertake teeth trimming or grinding and pizzle dropping on sheep.
  • Only tether sheep if they are given reasonable opportunity to exercise off the tether at least once each day and they have sufficient space to stand up, lie down and move around for grazing.
  • Only use an electrical prod on sheep if they are 3 months of age or older. The sheep must be able to move away from the prod and the prod must be applied as sparingly as possible. The prod must not be applied to the face, udders, anus or genitals of the sheep.

Duty of care to sheep

Anyone who owns, manages or handles sheep may be responsible for ensuring acceptable welfare outcomes of the sheep. This includes:

  • sheep owners (commercial and non-commercial)
  • saleyard agents
  • stock managers
  • veterinarians
  • stock handlers
  • processors
  • contractors
  • transporters.

Other welfare codes relevant to sheep

Everyone involved in transporting sheep must comply with the compulsory code of practice for transport of livestock.

More information on the appropriate care and handling of sheep is contained in the codes of practice for livestock at depots and saleyards and livestock at slaughtering establishments.

Those involved in feral animal control should be familiar with the code of practice for the destruction or capture, handling and marketing of feral livestock animals.

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