To ensure that the lamb is made to endure as little discomfort as possible, the procedure is carried out very early in life; preferably as soon after birth as deemed safe. It is no different in principle than elective surgeries carried out on human children shortly after birth at the behest of their parents; circumcision for example.
The procedure itself is straight forward and governmental regulations have been put in place to ensure that it is carried out in a manner that is compassionate. The most commonly practiced method, for example, employs the use of a rubber ring which when applied to the tail restricts circulation to the point that the appendage simply dies and falls off. This method has several legal regulations such as if it is performed after 1 week of birth anaesthetic must be used, and if performed after 3 months the procedure must be carried out by a veterinary surgeon.
It may sound straight forward, but docking a lamb’s tail is not as simple as just slipping the rubber ring on and waiting for the tail to fall off like a ripe apple. The ring has to be positioned just right, as you must leave enough of the tail so that it covers the vulva of the ewe or the anus of the ram / wether. This is because irrelevant of whether too much is removed or too little; if the task is carried out improperly you will be inviting parasites and infections to take root in the animal. For this reason, a good deal of farmers like to use a veterinary professional even before the 3 month mark; even if it is just to have them supervise.
Not all breeds of sheep are eligible for tail docking, as some have naturally short tails and therefore cannot have their tails docked. To do so would be against the law and could lead to prosecution; in the same manner that failing to use anaesthesia after the one week mark could. It is for this reason that we strongly urge anyone who has animals under their care to keep up to date on the legal regulations pertaining to the care and treatment of livestock.
Now that that has been said, how exactly does one go about docking a tail? As said above you will require a rubber castration ring and perhaps a castration tool also, to make its application easier. Then all you need to do is slip the ring on to the portion of the tail that is neither too high, nor too low, wait around 2 weeks and then it will just drop off.
Whilst the process ought not to be painful, it will cause a certain degree of discomfort within the animal and it may begin acting strangely. This is to be expected, imagine having a numb finger for two weeks, but once the two weeks has passed they will quickly return to a more regular behaviour.