Sheep welfare and eliminating mulesing
HSI believes that husbandry practices such as mulesing that can cause pain, suffering and distress to animals must be addressed and eliminated. The Australian Government department of Agriculture states that mulesing was introduced to protect Australia’s merino flocks from blowfly strike and is currently accepted under the laws of Australia’s states and territories.
Flystrike, or blow-fly strike, is a very serious welfare problem for sheep in Australia and New Zealand. It is a condition caused by maggots living on the skin and in the fur of animals. Sheep are most commonly attacked by fly strike around the rear end where the wool becomes soiled by faeces and urine.
Mulesing is a surgical procedure developed in the 1920’s which was designed in an attempt to reduce the incidence of flystrike in Australia. Skin is sliced from the buttocks of lambs without anaesthetic to scar the skin and prevent wool growth, faecal/urine stains, and skin wrinkles. Skin is also stripped from the sides and the end of the tail stump. Millions of merino lambs are currently mulesed each year. Most will also have their tail cut off and the males will be castrated at the same time.
This surgical procedure is usually done without anaesthetic. Mulesing does reduce the incidence of flystrike around the buttocks. However, it does not completely eliminate it and has no impact on flystrike in areas other than the buttocks.
Research shows that following mulesing procedures, once temporary pain relief wears off, lambs show distinctive signs of abnormal behaviour which indicate extreme pain – arched back and hunched body, prolonged standing with avoidance of lying and feeding, decreased socialisation, and avoiding the person who mulesed them. There is also an added risk of infection, and therefore flystrike, resulting from the surgical procedure.
New Zealand has gone so far as banning the practice of mulesing, but it continues to be used to combat flystrike in Australia.
Fortunately there is a simple solution that could revolutionise the Australian wool industry. Through careful genetic selection, sheep can be bred that do not require mulesing, and contrary to industry criticism this solution can produce plain-bodied disease resistant sheep within five years, sometimes as rapidly as just three years.
These ground-breaking techniques would revolutionise sheep farming by eliminating the need to perform any painful techniques, thereby advancing the welfare of Australia’s Merinos immensely. HSI is working to get as many Australian wool farmers on board, and we are also working with high street fashion companies such as H&M to pursue industry-wide policy change to ban cruel farming practices.
Read more about this initiative on page 7 of HSI’s Technical Bulletin by clicking here (Download 104 kB).
Learn more about mulesing in this article by Patrick Francis, an agricultural scientist and independent journalist who takes special interest in livestock husbandry and welfare: Mulesing under pressure from Merino wool value chain players (Download 766 kB).
Read more on mulesing in our Latest News page on Farm Animal Welfare here.