Seriously- images below may not be pleasant to look at!
My last post was about Woolsheds, and while searching for photos about sheep and shearing, I came across pictures taken at a station we worked at for a short time several years ago. They reminded me of another topic that really shocked me at the time, and pains me today when I look at the photos.
As a farmer, I have had to work with animals in ways that may not be comfortable for them. As a nurse, I had to do the same with people. After all, who does enjoy injections, or other medical procedures? Generally, these things are done in the best interests of the animal, the herd or, occasionally, the business. However, the one treatment that shocked me to the core, and made me sick to my stomach was Mulesing.
Mulesing is a surgery, frequently done without any pain relief or anaesthetic, in which the sheep are restrained unable to move, while the skin on its entire bum area is cut off leaving raw bleeding flesh exposed to the dusty air and contaminants of a harsh environment. This must be extremely painful, and frightfully vulnerable for weeks until it heals. Theoretically, when eventually healed, the scar tissue is not as prone to attack by flies as unscarred flesh. That is, if the shock and infection of the wound does not kill the sheep first. I certainly saw plenty dying and dead from the procedure. It was the cruellest thing I have ever seen. It makes me sick today thinking about it. But it is legal in Australia. Despite promising to ban the practise by 2010, sheep farmers throughout Australia are still allowed to mutilate and torture their sheep in this way.
Having seen fly blown sheep, I know this is a horrid way for a sheep to die. I know Merinos have excess skin and are prone to flystrike. I question that this barbaric butchering of live animals is the best way to deal with the problem. Other countries have managed to find better ways. Years of selective breeding, or change to other breeds, mean sheep have less loose skin – skin that provides such an attractive home for flies to lay their eggs. Even Merinos can be genetically selected for less skin, but genetic improvement of the national flock takes time. The sooner this is started, the quicker the results, yet experts have stated that there could be a dramatic improvement within two years. Farmers need to up their game and shear and crutch sheep at strategic times of the year to discourage fly strike. Less fleece during seasons that flies are prevalent drops the risk of attack by blowflies. Treating sheep with insecticide also helps dealing with the problem.
So what can we do? The main action we, as consumers, can do is buy non-mulsed wool. At the present time this is only about 10% of the nation’s wool. It needs to be 100%. Ask and demand. As the World pressure becomes greater, Australia must start to take action- even if it is long over-due. Spread the word and force action. After all, 20 % of Australian farmers manage without mulesing already and New Zealand has been virtually mulesing-free for the last ten years.
Link to article on Management of sheep in WA without Mulesing. https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/livestock-parasites/managing-non-mulesed-sheep