Flystrike and health and welfare issues
The Australian wool and sheep meat industries face lost production costs in excess of $200 million per year from flystrike, also known as breech strike, by the sheep blowfly, Lucilia cuprina. Flystrike and the contentious control measure, mulesing, represent significant welfare issues that are increasingly becoming less acceptable by retailers and consumers.
Preventing flystrike and phasing out the practice of mulesing is a major goal of the industry and its agencies, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), and they are actively looking for alternative and effective welfare-friendly measures.
Helping improve animal welfare and phase out mulesing
We are researching several strategies and technologies, along with our partners, which will allow the industry to reduce the negative welfare impacts of mulesing in the short-term and help with phasing out mulesing in the longer term.
In conjunction with Troy Laboratories, we've developed an interim pain relief solution for mulesing (Ilium Buccalgesic OTM), which now is registered and commercially available. This is helping overcome the welfare concerns of pain associated with the mulesing procedure until alternative practices are completely integrated into the sheep industry.
Genetic approaches to overcome the need for mulesing
Selective breeding to reduce the susceptibility of sheep to breech flystrike is an alternative approach. We've developed industry best practice guidelines for incorporating breech strike resistance into Merino breeding programs that are now used by stud breeders and buyers of rams to select for flystrike resistant animals.
A vaccine to combat flystrike will be a breakthrough for the sheep meat and wool industry that will have substantial positive economic, environmental and welfare impacts. We're part of a research team developing a vaccine that will provide sheep with full body protection and remove the need for mulesing altogether.
Novel chemical approaches
With the increasing incidence of insecticide resistance emerging, we are also working on a potential new type of chemicals for blowfly control.
Non-mulesing and use of pain relief on the rise
Adoption of on-farm solutions such as these is gaining traction. Currently 75 per cent of all mulesed Merino lambs receive pain relief.
Since the introduction of genetic indicator traits for breech strike resistance ten years ago, more and more sheep breeders are seeking Merino rams with both these and wool productivity traits.
More properties have been able to cease mulesing each year over the past ten years, due in large part to the national flock being able to shift away from breeding highly susceptible Merino sheep.
The amount of wool sold from unmulesed sheep is currently around 17 per cent and steadily increasing.