Genetics could end mulesing conflict

15 Dec, 2004 10:00 PM
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THE SRS Company is developing a strain of Merino that does not need mulesing, tail docking or crutching.

According to SRS managing director Jim Watts six of the 60 studs that have adopted SRS breeding programs have stopped mulesing, five in the last year and one three years ago.

³None of these studs have reported any sheep fly struck in the breech and I expect another 10 to 15 studs to reach this stage within the next three years,² Dr Watts said.

³I believe there is an achievable genetic solution to mulesing and tail docking and it is the intention of the SRS Company and it¹s seedstock producers to provide these new genetic traits for use by Merino sheep producers generally.

³Animal welfare issues are a strong consideration within the company and I personally am ethically opposed to the practice of mulesing if a genetic solution is within reach, as I believe it is.²

The SRS breeding system is based on selection for high levels of fibre density and fibre length.

³Sheep with these traits are plain-bodied and have thin, loose skins that are completely free of skin wrinkle,² Dr Watts said.

According to Dr Watts several SRS Merino flocks are producing a considerable number of ewes and rams with the wool-less breeches.

In one SRS flock, it was estimated that 30pc of 1500 Merino ewes exhibited this trait.

³These sheep with wool-less breeches have arisen without deliberate selection for this trait,² he said.

³The trait has come with the selection of plain-bodied sheep with thin (wrinkle free) skins.

³We are currently using the best of these ewes in embryo transfer programs joined to similar Merino rams with high levels of fibre density and fibre length.²

Through embryo transfer and natural joinings the SRS Company have crossed Finn sheep with Merino sheep to produce progeny with naturally short tails (5 to 6 joints) and half-length tails in the last three years.

³The short tail trait appears to be moderately heritable and we have several flocks with these short tailed sheep that are all producing stylish wool with good fleece weights of fine diameter,² Dr Watts said.

Dr Watts approached Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to participate in the project to help identify gene markers for specific traits of animals - including wool-less breeches and short tails that have been identified in SRS flocks.

³I would like to see united participation from other sheep industry bodies so that validation work can be carried out to define the value of this seedstock resource for the Australian sheep industry to get an alternative to mulesing in place,² he said.

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