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Farm animals may require invasive husbandry procedures that are intended to benefit the animal or group of animals involved. These include castration, spaying, mulesing (removal of wool-bearing skin from part of the tail and breech area in sheep), dehorning and horn trimming (in cattle, sheep and goats), tail docking of lambs, laparoscopic insemination of sheep, branding of animals for identification, and beak trimming of poultry.
However, these procedures may often cause pain, suffering or distress, particularly because they are routinely performed without anaesthetic or pain relief. A lack of understanding of the animal’s ability to experience pain and the unavailability of anaesthetics and/or pain relief to lay operators have been the main reasons for this.
The RSPCA is opposed to any unnecessary animal husbandry procedure — that is, any procedure that does not benefit the animal or group of animals involved. Procedures that are performed to prevent injury or disease in the animals or to control reproduction are acceptable, but procedures that are undertaken only for the benefit of people handling the animals, or for cosmetic reasons, are not.
The RSPCA’s position is that any procedure that may cause pain to the animals should be undertaken at the earliest possible age and only by competent and accredited operators. Appropriate pain-relieving products and treatments, and/or anaesthetics, must be used. Restraint of the animal for the procedure should be done in a way that minimises pain and distress, and appropriate postoperative care should be provided to minimise the risk of infection and to promote healing.
The long-term goal should be to replace invasive procedures with non-invasive alternatives.