The theme for this year’s International Day of Forests (21 March) is ‘forests and health’. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the important role that forests play in our lives and whether our national environmental laws, which are currently under review, are doing enough to ensure that future generations...
- New independent report Towards a Non-Mulesed Future highlights producers nationwide, using flystrike-resistant sheep instead of mulesing, are experiencing increased financial and animal welfare success.
- Humane Society International and FOUR PAWS state that with the viability of the genetic solution now clear, there’s never been a better time for industry to switch gears and create a roadmap to end mulesing.
- Country Road Group, David Jones, Target, Kmart Group, and Myer recently announced new policies to transition away from the use of mulesed wool, joining a long list of international brands doing the same.
Calls for ending the controversial practice of mulesing have re-ignited, following the launch of a new report Towards a Non-Mulesed Future by socioeconomic consulting firm BG Economics. The report highlights the success experienced by producers across the country using genetics to battle flystrike, instead of mulesing.
While at least 14% of Australian wool producers no longer mules their sheep, it’s estimated more than 10 million lambs continue to be mulesed annually.
Mulesing is a process unique to Australia, whereby skin and flesh is removed from around the base of a lamb’s tail, a procedure undertaken to protect them from a condition called flystrike. In turn, flystrike is exacerbated due to poor breedingchoices, namely producing sheep with wrinkled skin, originally done in an effort to maximise wool cut. This new report shows that it is largely good breeding choices—genetics—that will enable industry to end its reliance on mulesing, without compromising the producers’ bottom line. Put simply, wool producers can breed plain-bodied sheep without the wrinkle that attracts flies – these sheep are resistant to all forms of flystrike protecting their whole bodies for life, and completely avoiding any need for them to undergo mulesing or any other breech modification.
“Our independent survey of 97 woolgrowers and seven case studies collected data on producers who have transitioned to plain-bodied Merinos that do not require mulesing, from an operational, financial and animal welfare perspective. This provides a ‘big picture’ understanding of why and how growers made the transition,”said Dr Stephen Thornton, Principal Economist at BG Economics.
“The results show that nearly all woolgrowers have experienced increased financial benefits and the welfare of their animals is also improved. These growers are now well positioned to meet the market in the years to come as more retailers make the decision to only stock products which use non-mulesed wool.”
The report collates data from a survey of 97 Australian woolgrowers in different states, climate zones and rainfall areas, finding that overall:
- 77.5% completed the transition to plain-bodied Merinos (flystrike-resistant sheep) within five years and 42.7% within two years,
- 83.5% say transitioning to plain-bodied Merinos is not costly,
- 82% have experienced increased lamb growth rates. Lambing percentage is also increased significantly,
- 72.2% experience ≤0.5% breech strike and 92.5% ≤0.5% body strike,
- 87.6% receive a price premium for their unmulesed wool,
- 84.1% have experienced an increased return on investment,
- 86.6% would recommend to other woolgrowers to undertake the transition to plain-bodied Merinos,
- 91.8% believe animal welfare is improved by not mulesing sheep, and
- 98% say not mulesing is important for their farm’s future profitability.
“The results speak for themselves. While for decades, there’s been concern around the costs of transitioning away from mulesing, and the extensive amount of time it would take, it’s now time to lay these to rest. Times have changed and producers across the country are finding it possible, and financially profitable, to end their reliance on mulesing,” says Jessica Medcalf, Head of Programmes for FOUR PAWS Australia.
“Lambs suffer fear and stress, as well as acute pain for up to three days after being mulesed, while their wounds take weeks to heal. Furthermore, mulesing does not provide sheep with whole body protection from flystrike.
“It’s no wonder that collectively, hundreds of thousands of people globally have voiced their concern about mulesing, a concern which is only going to grow as people are increasingly interested in animal protection, and ethical fashion,” concluded Ms Medcalf.
In the absence of industry undertaking research specifically into the viability of the genetic solution HSI and FOUR PAWS commissioned the report, and its development was supported by a pilot group of wool producers keen to see change for both the protection of the industry’s reputation and concerns around market access, as well as for the sake of animal welfare.
HSI’s Animal Welfare Program Manager Georgie Dolphin, said, “Humane Society International and FOUR PAWS commissioned this report to better understand the realities of the genetic solution to flystrike, and the results are extremely positive. They send a clear message that using good genetics as a flystrike management solution is effective, profitable, and a welfare win for millions of sheep. By incorporating good genetics all of the wool growers surveyed have shown it is possible to end both flystrike and mulesing. It is taking time to dispel the belief that genetic traits such as low wrinkle equals low profits, however the evidence in this report makes it clear that this is certainly not the case. Importantly, the majority of producers surveyed were able to make the transition within five years.
“Consumers are demanding better animal welfare and retailers such as Country Road Group, David Jones, Target, Kmart and Myer are increasingly adopting policies to source non-mulesed wool. This report shows producers can move with the times and solve an animal welfare problem without compromising profitability. As a first step, we encourage industry leaders to acknowledge that the genetic solution is the best way to manage flystrike sustainably, alongside adequate animal husbandry practices.
“Plain-bodied Merinos without wrinkles are well suited to the challenging Australian climate with most growers surveyed claiming they are more drought tolerant. Unlike mulesing, breeding plain-bodied flystrike-resistant Merino sheep offers a whole body solution, providing them with life-long protection from both breech strike and body strike, a factor we encourage wool growers to consider whilst restocking their flocks in the coming months. It’s time for producers to stop breeding wrinkly sheep that are unsuited to Australian conditions and instead reap the rewards the genetic solution offers,” concluded Ms Dolphin.
The producers surveyed gave a number of key recommendations for making a successful transition, including:
- becoming informed, by speaking to other growers who have successfully made the transition, or reading through information available,
- preparing yourself mentally for a ‘mind shift’ and the need to be committed to see it through,
- finding a stud breeder that aligns with your breeding direction, and
- to aim for sheep types that are all-round fit for purpose.
“I welcome the independent report on sheep mulesing by the socioeconomic consulting firm BG Economics. This clearly confirms, first, that woolgrowers responding to customer demand for better animal welfare by eliminating mulesing find it profitable to do so; that transitioning to plain-bodied Merinos that don’t need mulesing is achievable within five years; and moreover, that this transition is not costly, that it leads to increased lamb-growth and weaning percentages, and delivers wool price premiums whilst being integral to their increased profitability,” said Charles Massy, wool grower, BSc. PhD. OAM, and author of ‘Breaking the Sheep’s Back’.
For more information and supporting assets please visit our resources library,containing the report and case studies.