A VIABLE alternative to surgical mulesing may be closer to commercial availability than woolgrowers think and it has been developed on a small budget.
Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) has often been viewed as the leading alternative researcher with a budget to match, but a small NSW-based company has been working quietly behind the scenes for the last two and a half years.
Cobbett Technologies has been trialling Skintraction, a needle-less intra-dermal injection that initiates bare breeches on Merino lambs by causing the skin to contract. It could be available by next year.
The injected formulation is based on a chemical compound commonly found in regular shampoo, but is yet to be registered by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) for mulesing alternative use.
Cobbett has come a long way on a small budget and research and development director Peter St Vincent Welch was confident he had a viable alternative for the wool industry.
Mr St Vincent Welch previously worked with CSIRO in the 1990s, where early-stage research into mulesing alternatives was conducted.
About a decade later the mulesing debate hit the headlines and Mr St Vincent Welch¹s experience was drawn on at Cobbett Technologies.
³We had nothing where we started from and now have a system that does work,² he said.
Mr St Vincent Welch and Cobbett¹s small research team, consisting of another two people, independently identified the Skintraction chemical on a small budget with no input from organisations such as AWI.
³Once we had the chemical working we knew we had to have an applicator to get the chemical into the skin,² Mr St Vincent Welch said.
He said AWI was approached for funding and Cobbett was given about $100,000 to develop an applicator.
³We ended up with an applicator that was a pressurised vessel with a solenoid and electronic control,² he said.
Initial problems with the applicator included folding the fleece over the skin and trying to get the chemical effectively through varying wool lengths.
There was also potential to pick up contaminants through urine and faeces when applying the chemical into the skin.
The AWI funded applicator was abandoned and Cobbett began investigating their current configuration of applicator tips.
³We now have different tip lengths for different wool lengths,² Mr St Vincent Welch said.
³But the main thing is we are getting right through the skin surface, so we took the variable of fleece length out and the infection problem out.
³That funding we did by ourselves.²
The process is expected to cost about $1 a head using about 10 shots around the breech area, if APVMA registration is successful.
Initial set up including applicator and gas cylinders is estimated to be $3000-4000.
The applicator is also interchangeable as a regular needle gun for other injecting needs in livestock.
Mr St Vincent Welch said throughput was about the same as conventional mulesing.
³People will get better as they go along and you can do a smaller lamb with this because they are not being knocked back health wise and they are not suffering,² he said.
³The smaller the sheep the less injections and the quicker you¹ll be.²
Confirmation trails of the applicator are being carried out.
³But the main thing is registration,² Mr St Vincent Welch said.
Concentrations of the chemical for the new applicator, volume and pressure used, stability trials and a toxicology submission to APVMA are all being worked on before registration can be granted.
Because Skintraction is based on a common chemical compound, Mr St Vincent Welch said it should help registration to be relatively quick.
³We are hoping we might get something to contractors by this time next year,² he said.