I think that the most important thing for people who care for sheep is to make the health of the sheep a priority, and I think that’s why the RSPCA and the federal government in Australia agree that the practices of mulesing and tail-docking can continue. I do think that there is room for improvement. They can improve currently existing practices by having more training programs, more education available to those who do work with the animals.
As for the problem with the blow flies, I think that there can be a lot of research done into pest management, in terms of controlling the blowfly populations. They could release sterile males into areas known to have high blowfly populations or set up traps of some kind in hopes of lowering the reproductive successes of the flies. Treating the problem (the blowflies) could go a long way in preventing blowfly strike in both sheep and other animals in Australia.
From what I’ve observed in my ‘research’ into yarn shops, not a lot of companies who produce yarn give the country of origin for the wool, but rather the country that had processed the wool and turned it into yarn. I find that this is also the case with clothing that we can purchase here in Canada. Because we only get the country of manufacturer (or processing), we as consumers lack the information that allows us to be picky and only choose to buy products from producers who choose to not mules their sheep. Without this information (which follows the fleece in the National Wool Declaration, but doesn’t continue after it has been processed), we cannot make an informed decision to choose to either support non-mulesed producers or to just know what kind of farms our wool products come from.
I definitely think that there can be improvements in ensuring pain mitigation for animals undergoing mulesing and tail-docking. There can also be more training into these practices, along with shearing, as a higher level of education and training can go a long way in preventing accidental harm to the sheep. I don’t think that any true wool producer would ever intentionally harm one of their animals (harming an animal and causing it stress is detrimental to the wool growth on a sheep), so I don’t think that wool producers enjoy the process of tail-docking or mulesing, but I do think that by doing so it is in the sheep’s best interest in preventing flystrike.
Photo from Flickr user Marji Beach.