Pain management recommended for husbandry procedures

Advice about the type and use of pain relief suitable for livestock undergoing routine husbandry procedures.

Procedures should be carried out under appropriate conditions

Husbandry procedures such as lamb marking, including castration and tail docking in sheep, and castration, disbudding and dehorning in cattle, are performed to manage stock management and mitigate disease risks. These procedures have the potential to cause pain and stress and so should be carried out under appropriate conditions, by operators who have the knowledge and skills to reduce the risk of unnecessary pain and discomfort for the animals. Appropriate conditions include;

  • avoiding extreme weather (either very hot and dusty or very cold and wet)
  • working on small groups so that lambs and calves are separated from their mothers for short periods of time and have the best chance of mothering up quickly when the procedures are completed
  • using the correct equipment that is in good working order
  • using hygienic practices
  • carrying out the procedure at the most appropriate age for the species
  • carrying out vaccinations at the same time to reduce the risk of tetanus.

In addition, use of analgesia (pain relief) is recommended.

The Australian animal welfare standards and guidelines for sheep (2016) state that mulesing, tail docking and castration should be accompanied by pain relief when practical and cost-effective methods become available. Accordingly, many stud and commercial producers are now routinely using pain relief as chemicals are becoming cost effective and readily available. In addition, some markets require guarantees of their use, with price premiums being paid for animals and their produce emanating from properties where pain relief is now included in routine husbandry procedures. Currently in Australia, only the Victorian government has mandated use of pain relief for mulesing (2020), but the Australian Wool Exchange data indicates that over 42% of the annual FY23 clip was from producers using pain relief, compared to 8.3% in 2010.

Pain relief (analgesia) and pain numbing (anaesthesia), can be achieved through the judicious use of therapeutic chemicals. Local anaesthetic agents (injected or applied to the site) desensitise an area and decrease nerve transmission of pain. Other analgesic agents reduce the perception of pain and/or reduce inflammation at the site to reduce pain and swelling. Combinations of various anaesthetic and analgesic agents provide a longer duration of pain relief than a single agent due the cumulative effect of different modalities of pain management.

With a number of accessible and effective anaesthetic and analgesics now available as over-the-counter products for use in sheep and cattle, pain relief measures are highly recommended for use in routine husbandry procedures carried out in schools.

In addition to achieving pain control, their use provides engaging teaching opportunities.

Currently available commercially anaesthetic and analgesic products

Currently available commercially anaesthetic and analgesic products include:

Local anaesthetic agents

NumOcaine®(Mavlab P/L)

NumOcaine® is a specially packaged version of a well-known local anaesthetic agent (lignocaine). The Numnuts device applies an elastrator ring to the spermatic cord or the tail and then the operator deposits a dose of the anaesthetic on the body side of the ring, blocking the transmission of pain generated by the ring(s) for up to 4 hours.

This specific formulation of lignocaine is (i.e. as NumOcaine®) is now classified as an S5 drug, making it available as an over-the-counter product in agriculture and farm supply stores and veterinary clinics. It is also available to purchase online, directly from the manufacturer, Numnuts.

There is no withholding period for meat or milk associated with the use of NumOcaine.

Operators should read and follow the product label before use.

Tri-Solfen® (Dechra Veterinary Products (Australia) Pty. Ltd.)

Tri-Solfen is a combination of two local anaesthetics, adrenaline and a disinfectant. It provides short term numbing of the tissues when applied as a liquid spray to an open wound – such as after castration with a knife, mulesing or disbudding.

Tri-Solfen quickly reduces immediate post-operative pain (lignocaine effect), reduces wound bleeding (adrenaline effect) and provides longer term pain relief for up to 24hours.

Tri-Solfen is registered for use in lambs and calves and has a meat and wool withholding periods of 90 days. It is an S5 drug, making it available over the counter in agriculture and farm supply stores. Operators should read and follow the product label before use.


Ilium Buccalgesic OTM®(Troy Laboratories) ; Butec®(Troy Laboratories)

Meloxicam is an anti-inflammatory drug widely used in veterinary medicine to minimise inflammation and provide analgesia.

Buccalgesic® and Butec® are oral formulations of meloxicam, recently reclassified from vet-only drugs to over-the-counter products. They are gel formulations, designed to be deposited between the cheek and molar teeth where the active ingredient, meloxicam, is absorbed directly across the oral mucosa into the blood stream. Onset of pain relief occurs within 15 minutes and lasts 6-9 hours. Both products have a meat withholding period and export slaughter interval (ESI) of 10 days. Operators should read and follow the product label before use.

Meloxicam is also available as an injectable agent for sheep and cattle, but these formulations are only available through veterinarians.

Options for pain relief

Note: Buccalgesic can be used in combination with Tri-Solfen or NumOcaine for some procedures.

Procedure NumOcaine
Buccalgesic alone
Buccalgesic then Tri-Solfen
Buccalgesic then NumOcaine
Surgical castration/tail docking of sheep not applicable suitable suitable not applicable suitable
Lamb marking with elastrator ring
suitable suitable not applicable
best not applicable
Calf castration with elastrator ring
not applicable suitable not applicable not applicable not applicable
Disbudding calves
not applicable suitable best not applicable suitable

It is essential that any management procedures are well planned and include purchase of the required chemicals and equipment, receiving SACEC approval if students are to be carrying out the procedures and documenting all activities and chemical use.

It may be possible to team up with another school to share the purchase of chemicals for a season, particularly if there are only small numbers of animals at each site. But it is vital that the chemical remains in the labelled bottle.

General advice about veterinary chemicals

Over the counter chemicals

Over the counter veterinary chemicals are Schedule 5, 6 and 7 (also known as S5, S6, and S7). They are chemicals that are available for purchase from a retail outlet and do not need to be supplied by a veterinarian. They include drenches, lice treatments and some vaccinations as well as NumOcaine, Tri-Solfen and Buccalgesic

If livestock owners choose to use a product in a non-food-producing animal in a manner that is not specified on the label of the product, also known as off-label, it is their responsibility to manage the risk of any adverse outcomes that may result from the off-label use.

In contrast, the use of any registered chemical (irrespective of Schedule) in a way not specified on the label (off-label), in food-producing animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, can only occur following the written directions by a veterinarian. This is to ensure unacceptable chemical residues do not occur in meat, milk or fibre and that the risk of toxicity is low. An example of a case that will require veterinary prescription including property, animal, dose rate and withholding period, is the use of anthelmintic drenches registered for sheep but used in goats. This also applies to the analgesics described in this document.

Veterinary chemicals (S4)

Prescription chemicals are Schedule 4 (S4) and are dispensed by a veterinarian. Prescription chemicals must only be used to treat the animal specified by the veterinarian.

Recording chemical usage

The use of any chemical on an animal must be documented. This documentation must include:

  • product name (i.e. brand name)
  • active ingredient (name and concentration)
  • expiry date of chemical
  • batch number of chemical
  • withholding period of chemical
  • identification of animal administered to
  • dose administered
  • date of administration.
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