To grind or not to grind?

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With shearing upon us, a reminder that across-herd angle-grinding of alpaca incisor teeth should not be undertaken by your shearer. In Victoria, tooth grinding of sheep has been listed as a prohibited procedure under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Sheep producers who practice this technique are committing an act of cruelty upon the animal and are liable to be fined (approximately $14,000) or imprisoned for 12 months. Studies in large numbers of sheep in Victoria and NSW have shown there is no benefit and can result in significant pain and small production losses.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) policy on sheep dentistry, including tooth trimming is set out below:

“The Australian Veterinary Association opposes tooth trimming, tooth clipping or tooth grinding in sheep. These procedures cannot be justified or recommended because they have not been shown to benefit the welfare or productivity of the animal. Tooth clipping involves the severing of all the incisor teeth just above the gum line, using a variety of cutting instruments. Tooth grinding and tooth trimming occur when an angle grinder, fitted with a cutting disc, is used to reduce and level the incisor teeth.

These procedures were being recommended by certain sections of the sheep industry because of perceived benefits to animal production. However, a number of field trials in a range of locations have been unable to demonstrate any benefit to the welfare of individual animals or to animal production. A large trial involving over 40 900 ewes in Victoria and southern New South Wales showed no effect on productivity of treated ewes except for a 2.6 per cent reduction in greasy fleece 7–11 months after treatment and a 2.3 per cent reduction in body weight of tooth-trimmed ewes 2–5 months after treatment (Williams 1993).”

  • Williams A (1993). Evaluation of tooth grinding as a method for improving economic performance in flocks with premature incisor tooth loss (‘broken mouth’). Final Report, Project DAV 5, Wool Research and Development Corporation.

Please bear this information in mind at shearing time. If an individual alpaca has elongated incisors, these teeth would only be modified carefully for aesthetic reasons. Trimming incisors will not affect the ability of the animal to graze. Alpacas with abnormal dentition at the back of the mouth (pre-molars and molars) could benefit from filing/extraction thus assisting with chewing and rumination. Fighting teeth should be filed smooth so that the pulp cavity is not exposed.