A little bit of history

The apparition of the problem

The export of wool from the Australian colonies became a major income in the 1830s and the Australian Merino emerged as the dominant breed of wool producing sheep. The Vermont Merino, a breed presenting an important amount of skin fold and wrinkles, was introduced to Australia in the late 19th century in order to increase the skin surface of wool producing sheep. Lucilia cuprina was introduced by chance in Australia in the early 20th century and rapidly spread across the country. Its development was correlated with a decrease of the flystrike prevention (crutching and application of chemicals such as arsenic) due to an increase of the flock size (Sneddon & Rollin, 2010).

The development of the technique

The original Mules operation was developed in 1929 by J.H.W Mules. The story says (Beveridge, 1984) that this breeder of Merino sheep of South Australia had a “ewe that was very wrinkly and constantly struck”. As obviously the problem came from the wrinkles, he cut them off and “found that the operation was easy and a complete success”. Thus, he published a letter in Adelaide Advertiser in 1931 stating that he discovered a solution to the strikes in ewes. He had great difficulties to be heard by the “researchers working on the blowfly problem, veterinarians or sheep breeders”. The operation was final recognized as conferring “a good degree of protection against breech strike” in 1940 by the Joint Blowfly Committee. The procedure was been modified lately (1947) to extend the skin removal to the sides of the tail to prevent tail strike as well as breech strike. It is the operation as usually practiced today.

Increased public concern leads to a plan phase-out for 2010

The first opposition to mulesing was developed in 2004 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and consisted in an international retail and consumer campaign called “Save the Sheep” against the Austrlian sheep industry (Sneddon & Rollin, 2010). It supported the assertion that mulesing causes unnecessary suffering to sheep. The Australian Wool Industry (AWI) answered by commissioning a report, The Mackinnon Project on the likely increased prevalence of breech strike and increased mortalities from flystrike if sheep were nor mulesed. This report confirmed that the cessation of mulesing would increase the prevalence of flystrike and the death rate and thus would have a negative impact on sheep welfare. The Australian Wool and Sheep Industry Taskforce, established to represent the industries in this argument, claimed in 2008 that “it would be extremely cruel not to mules sheep in Australia until an effective replacement procedure is available” (Sneddon & Rollin, 2010, p.4). An agreement between PETA and AWI was reached in court in 2007 establishing a cessation of the boycott initiated by PETA and a commitment of AWI to ban mulesing before the end of 2010 thank to research and development programs for alternatives and selective breeding of sheep for resistance to flystrike.

Current farmers opinion on mulesing

The phase-out of mulesing in 2010 has not been reached. A survey of 2011 on the motivation of 22 wool producers regarding mulesing showed that half of them intend to continue mulesing, believing it was more effective and involved less cost, time and effort than the currently available alternatives. The survey also noticed that an increase of the societal pressure for improving animal farm welfare would likely influence farmers to change their practices and noted for more than half of the interviewees, “the belief that consumers will continue to purchase wool products regardless of the use of mulesing, appeared to influence wool producer’s decisions to continue this practice” (Wells et al., 2011, p.9).



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