Mulesing – the welfare issue we need to be talking about
It’s a major problem with animal welfare that affects around 10 million Merino lambs from Australia each year. Yet, the majority of Australians don’t even know the issue is taking place.
Mulesing is an unpleasant husbandry method in which lambs are held in a crescent-shaped skin flap and are removed from their tails using sharp shears. In all states other than Victoria in which pain relief is required, The procedure can be carried out without pain relief, and it is the decision of the farmer.
Australia is the world’s largest producer of wool, but we’re way behind in ensuring the welfare of our animals for farm animals. In the wake of New Zealand banning mulesing by law in the year 2018, Australia remains the only remaining country that has mulesing in place.
Why do we continue to remain in this method of farming that clearly causes pain and discomfort to the sheep’s young?
Merinos tend to be the popular species of wool-producing sheep in the production of wool in Australia and, because of the woolly wrinkles and folds that are present in their skin, specifically the more traditional Merinos are prone to flystrike. The folds on the tail and top of the hind legs could be swollen by manure, which attracts flies. They lay eggs inside the area. Then, after hatching, the larvae will consume the flesh of the sheep. If untreated, flystrike can be fatal.
Flystrike, in itself, is a major welfare issue. Mulesing is viewed as a fast and efficient method to control this issue, which is the reason for its popularity among producers. However, the significant difficulties to the welfare of sheep that arise from mulesing can’t be overlooked – and neither can the fact that there are other options accessible.
The cost of animal welfare.
Mulesing can be traumatic and painful for sheep. While some producers utilize pain relief after mulesing, this doesn’t mean that the procedure is painless. It is not a permanent solution to the risks, suffering, and stress that mulesing can cause.
While the process itself is fast, the subsequent pain can be persistent, lasting anywhere from a few hours to days or even weeks. And the wounds that result may take several weeks to heal. Lambs who were mulesed may become more introverted, have less social interaction, and show signs of pain, including being hunched over and not spending as much time resting or eating. The lamb that was mulesed may avoid people and, more specifically, those who mulled them within the following weeks, an obvious sign of the terror and fear that the animal suffered from the process.
But there’s an alternative approach.
The wrinkled breeds, such as Merino sheep, were initially believed to produce better quality wool and more of it. This has resulted in the over-breeding of Merinos in Australia, which are extremely vulnerable to flystrike.
We now know that this is not true, which is why it makes sense for Australian wool farmers to switch to sheep herds that naturally resist flystrike. That means they have fewer wrinkles and still yield the same amount of wool. It’s a solution that’s accessible to the entire industry, and even though it could require a couple of years to implement, it could spare millions of lambs from the abysmal suffering and pain they suffer today.
While mulesing is in effect, the duration that mulesing can continue in the meantime, the RSPCA believes that pain relief should be compulsory across all states in Australia. Wool manufacturers must be required to disclose their use of mulesing along with other methods of breech modifications through the National Wool Declaration.
The conscious consumer can take action by buying wool products that are not mulesed. Numerous brands like Country Road and David Jones have already committed to moving away from wool that is mulesed. If your favorite brand hasn’t made clear its policy on mulesing, call them directly to inquire about their policies regarding animal welfare.