Australian Wool Innovation’s (AWI) research and development program to deliver efficient and effective alternatives to mulesing is progressing well, with strong support from woolgrowers and the broader sheep industry.
Under a compact between international retailers and the wool industry to phase-out mulesing by December 31, 2010, AWI is charged with finding new and sustainable methods of breech-strike prevention.
AWI is continuing the national product development and testing program of ‘breech and tail clips’ on tens of thousands of lambs this spring.
More than 1,100 growers have registered their interest to participate in the evaluation of the clips, ranging from fine wool growers and prime lamb producers in the higher rainfall zones, to growers in the pastoral zone.
AWI’s Project Manager Blowfly Control, Ian Evans, said the evaluation is going to plan.
“Our trained contractors are well and truly into the process of getting the clips on these lambs, and then two weeks later, they’re returning to assess the early stage outcome, as per trial protocol,” said Mr Evans.
“Generally, the feedback from woolgrowers is very pleasing.”
Mr Evans said the aim is to achieve the same net effect as that of the conventional surgical mules.
“The results coming through at this early stage – and we’ve got some months to go yet – indicate that the clips are well on the way to achieving their key aim.
“Also, we’ve confirmed that operator proficiency and training is very important, and we’ve identified a minor clip design improvement, because we’re now trialling on such a diverse range of sheep types.
“We always expected variation from farm to farm and sheep to sheep, which will be analysed to guide further clip design and application method work.
“This is the nature of research and development, and that’s why we’re pleased so many growers put up their hands to be part of the national product development and testing program.”
Mr Evans said a range of animal welfare benefits are emerging including better mothering-up, faster return to grazing behaviour and increased weight gains compared to conventionally mulesed lambs.
“However, we’ll be able to quantify those benefits when we collect and analyse all data from all the sites around the country. Growers are seeing these results and their attitude is very supportive. It is not just curiosity driving them to get involved – they are genuinely interested in finding viable alternatives to mulesing,” he said.
“This research will be refined over the next three mulesing seasons, as we move towards 2010.”
The other alternatives to mulesing that are being evaluated and explored in the industry include intradermal needle-less injections and breeding for breech-strike resistant sheep.