We've given both of our daughters their own sheep as a way of involving them in our farm. Lara, our oldest, now has 2 breeding ewes, a half interest in one of our rams, and a set of twin lambs. As of last Tuesday, Emma, who is 5, has a ewe with twins, too. She is so excited! When she got home from school today, she asked if we could "process" the lambs, which involves weighing them, ear-tagging them, docking their tails, and (if they are ram lambs) castrating them.
I guess some parents would want to protect their young children from these types of things. For me, it has provided an opportunity to talk to our kids about why we do certain things. In talking about these production practices, it has also given me a chance to think about them more critically.
Sheep are born with long tails. While some producers do not dock the tails, we've seen what fly strike can do to sheep with tails. Some producers (largely those who produce lambs for fairs) go to the other extreme - they dock the lamb's tail extremely short, which creates other problems. As I explained to Emma this afternoon, we dock tails so that they don't have fly strike but also so they don't have the problems associated with a short dock.
Like us, our kids love our animals. But they've also experienced the entire life cycle - they realize that we raise some of our animals for meat. As another sheep producer, Al Medvitz, has said, they realize that death is not the opposite of health. In other words, our kids realize that we treat our animals humanely throughout their entire lives, and that "harvesting" the animals is a natural part of this process.