AS a part of its breech flystrike prevention research, development and extension program, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) is promoting a booklet which investigates issues around non-mulesing.
The Planning for a non-mulesed Merino enterprise booklet was prepared by AWI’s manager of genetics and animal welfare advocacy, Geoff Lindon, after interviews with 40 Merino woolgrowers from across Australia who have moved to a non-mulesing model.
In an interview promoting the booklet on AWI’s The Yarn podcast series, Mr Lindon explained some of the woolgrowers he interviewed had transitioned to non-mulesing easily, others had “moved too soon” and had to revert to mulesing before trying again.
“It’s (booklet) woolgrowers talking to woolgrowers about the process and the issues they encountered in moving to a non-mulesing enterprise,” Mr Lindon said.
He said it came about after a breech flystrike update when woolgrowers identified a need for some case studies of farmers who had employed alternative methods of lowering risk of flystrike sufficiently for them to attempt to stop mulesing.
Mr Lindon acknowledged opposition to mulesing – the main farmer tool in combatting flystrike for the past 90 years – and pressure from Merino wool customers, particularly in Europe, over perceived conflict with wool’s clean, green, natural fibre marketing image, had influenced more woolgrowers to stop mulesing to improve marketability of their clip.
But there was no simple solution because of the wide array of variables that contribute to the risk and consequences of breech flystrike.
“Sheep type and environment vary so markedly across Australia that there is no one solution that fits all,” Mr Lindon said.
“(Woolgrowers) may find there are many solutions for them, but what works for one neighbour doesn’t necessarily work with another neighbour.
“The key is to appreciate the attributes of your property and to plan, plan, plan,” he said.
In the booklet Mr Lindon found that having a detailed plan in place before starting the move to a non-mulesed enterprise was most important and it should cover other methods to manage risk of breech flystrike, such as breeding for low breech wrinkle and dags, increasing reliance on worm and fly control chemicals, additional crutching and accelerated shearing.
It was also important for the move to non-mulesing to have the support of everyone involved, including staff, contractors, shearers, livestock agents and ram suppliers.
Mr Lindon said some of the woolgrowers he interviewed told him they had to find new livestock agents or shearing contractors who would work with them.
There was also frustration in how to confidently find rams that met the low wrinkle, low dag, high-fleece weight and high-worm resistance criteria woolgrowers moving to non-mulesing required.
Often, fundamental change to the whole business was required and flexibility was key.
“The business needs to be brave, organised and determined to make it work, especially in the early years,” Mr Lindon said in the booklet which covers planning, sheep type, management changes and financial considerations.
In it he stressed individual farmers responsible for sheep were in the “prime position” to determine what is the best lifetime animal welfare outcome for them.
AWI said the booklet was a tool for all woolgrowers to gain insight into the option of transitioning to a non-mulesed enterprise and aligned with its continued effort to provide woolgrowers with accessible industry information on management practices for the welfare of their sheep.
An update on AWI’s breech strike R&DE program is on wool.com/flystrike in which Mr Lindon outlines investment areas of breeding and selection, breech modification, improved management, woolgrower and domestic industry extension and international supply chain communication.
His booklet is also on the AWI website.
Flystrike remains one of AWI’s top research priorities with more than $35 million invested in flystrike initiatives since 2005 and more than $60m invested in animal welfare programs over the same period.
Mulesing has been shown to reduce breech strike by 90 per cent but the volume of Merino wool declared as non-mulesed and ceased-mulesed through Australian Wool Exchange’s National Wool Declaration continues to increase each year.
In 2016-17, 7pc of the Australian Merino Clip less than 24.5 microns and 14pc of wool finer than 17.5 microns was declared as non-mulesed.