Flystrike Prevention

Sheep R&D Update: Breech flystrike prevention alternatives

AWI has been working with several potential breech flystrike alternatives in recent years. The most prominent is the SkinTraction® intradermal, owned by Cobbett Technologies Pty Ltd, which uses the active ingredient of Sodium Lauryl Sulphate. AWI has been funding and reporting these trials since 2007.
Over the past 12 months AWI has also been assisting with early scoping trials on two other potential alternatives, firstly ‘Liquid Nitrogen’ with Steinfort AgVet Pty Ltd of Victoria, to remove breech and
tail skin, and secondly the use of ‘Laser’ treatments with Zeta LLC of Colorado USA, to potentially remove wool around the eye, pizzle, breech and tail. See full report here

ABC report

Badly stung by the animal rights campaign against mulesing, superfine merino studs like Hillcreston have been breeding a plainer, less wrinkly sheep.
It will help end mulesing, where skin around the breech of the lamb is cut off.
A bare area grows back, removing the risk of urine and faeces catching in wool and attracting flystrike.
But despite the advances, Murray Picker at Bigga in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, west of Goulburn, says mulesing will be used for another 10 years.See latest full ABC report by Sarina Locke

Working with industry

WoolProducers Australia continues working with other industry organisations to endorse a national mulesing standard to be included in the Agriculture, Horticulture and Conservation and Land Management Training Package. This work will help to strengthen the quality and availability of best practice training and accreditation in this procedure.

Flystrike is a serious health and welfare risk for Australian sheep, which has been the case since early 1900s when the Lucilia cuprina blowfly was accidentally introduced to Australia. The L. cuprina blowfly lays eggs, usually in the rear end of sheep, which hatch into maggots hidden beneath the wool, and eat the sheep alive. It is difficult to detect early, causes severe suffering to the animal and can be rapidly fatal.

Flystrike costs $280 million annually in treatment costs and lost production associated with flystrike. When a strike occurs, blowfly eggs laid on the skin of the sheep hatch into larvae, which feed on the sheep’s tissue. Flystrike can produce inflammation, general systemic toxaemia, and even death.

It is estimated that around 3 million sheep a year die as a result of flystrike in Australia (Wardhaugh and Morton, 1990). Many more are affected by non-fatal strikes. 

In the 1930s, woolgrowers were faced with flystrike rates of between 60 to 120 per cent. In an attempt to control the problem, a surgical procedure called mulesing was introduced. In this procedure, a loose fold of skin is removed from each side of the sheep’s breech and tail. The procedure is performed once when lambs are young and are able to recover swiftly. The wound contracts to form a smooth scar, minimising the opportunity for blowfly eggs to hatch.

Once mulesing was introduced, and combined with the good animal husbandry practices described above, flystrike rates dropped to 1 to 3 per cent. Instead of being decimated, Australia’s fine wool sheep have survived.

Nevertheless, in response to welfare concerns for lambs undergoing the practice of traditional mulesing, the Australian wool industry has determined to introduce welfare-improved flystrike prevention practices and has a fast-tracked R&D and breeding program to achieve this.

An original target date to end mulesing by 2010 has now passed. However, strong progress to address animal welfare concerns has been made and continues with many woolgrowers having already replaced traditional mulesing with welfare-improved practices.

Australian Wool Innovation has in place a proactive, intensive and committed R&D program that is designed to remove the need for mulesing over time, and to ensure humane care of sheep in the interim.

A declaration system, called the National Wool Declaration, is now available, providing options for farmers to document their flystrike control practices through the wool auction selling system. Farmers are able to declare their wool as either non-mulesed (NM), ceased mulesed (CM wool comes from farms where farmers no longer practice mulesing) or pain relief treated (PR pain relief treatments are used for the mules procedure). This provides transparency and choice in the marketplace and is a product specification issue between buyer and seller.

See Australian Wool Innovation Ltd for more detailed explanation of mulesing and flystrike.

National Wool Declaration

From 1 July 2008 all wool being sold through the auction system is required to have an accompanying National Wool Declaration (NWD). This document will include information on chemical use, dark fibre risk and most importantly, mulesing status.

The NWD was developed through a rigorous process as part of the AWEX Industry Services Advisory Committee (ISAC), which advises on such aspects of the auction system. ISAC has a wide input from key wool pipeline stakeholders including growers, brokers, exporters and processors.
The declaration asks growers to indicate whether they have ceased mulesing or if individual mobs (or even the entire clip) have not been mulesed. It also allows growers to declare if they used a pain relief treatment during the procedure.
The NWD was not designed to disadvantage growers who are still mulesing.
While it does offer choice to those customers who have already indicated that they are seeking wool from farms that no longer mules, most importantly the NWD gives confidence to retailers that the industry is responding to their demand for change.
A key feature of the NWD is that, over time, it will provide evidence to retailers of an incremental increase in the amount of wool available that is from unmulesed sheep or farms that do not mules.
Phasing out mulesing will be without doubt much harder for some than it is for others. But if we can send the message that as an industry we are unified and embracing change, we will go a long way to ensuring that our customers stay with wool.
At a time when mulesing is causing much debate in the wool industry, the NWD is a very positive initiative that all sections of the industry should embrace.
National Wool Declaration
How to fill out the NWD