Lambs

Sheep Wool & Live Lamb Cutting (Mulesing)

Sheep are complex creatures whose needs are often neglected

22.2.2024

Today there are over 1 billion sheep in the world! Australia is a major player in the wool industry and Merino sheep are the breed most often used for wool production on this continent. Sheep are complex, curious and social creatures, who sadly can be treated poorly. They are often mutilated without pain relief, treated roughly when being shorn, and can experience the horrors of being exported for slaughter, and then there’s live lamb cutting (also known as mulesing).

What is live lamb cutting (mulesing)?

Many producers in the Australian merino industry breed ‘wrinkled sheep’ because they are thought to produce higher volumes of wool. Unfortunately, these wrinkles provide the ideal conditions for fly larvae to grow, and this makes sheep particularly susceptible to a painful condition called ‘flystrike’ which occurs when flies lay their eggs, and larvae grow and feed on their bodies primarily around the sheep’s hindquarters. 

Nobody, including the sheep farmers, wants to see sheep suffer the pain of flystrike. 

Thousands of Australian farmers are having great success with pain-free solutions. But many more resort to the cruel and outdated practice of lamb cutting (mulesing) which involves restraining lambs, usually 2-12 weeks old, on their backs in a metal cradle and using shears, similar to garden shears, to cut large folds of skin away from around their buttocks in an effort to create scar tissue which is less prone to fly strike. This extremely traumatising mutilation, is often undertaken without adequate pain relief and is currently performed on approximately 70% of Merino wool-producing sheep in Australia.1

Why mulesing is a problem for lambs

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Lambs feel every bit of the shear cutting straight through their flesh. The pain lasts for days and the wound needs weeks to heal. Some also die contributing to the already alarming high number of lamb deaths in Australia. Despite being the largest wool producer for the global fashion market Australia’s lamb mortality rate surpasses the global average rate by 10% leading to over 10 million lambs perishing every year. Read more about it here. We have also taken these findings to key stakeholders to call for improvements.

What are we doing?

FOUR PAWS advocates for pain-free alternatives:

  • The use of flystrike resistant sheep breeds e.g., plain bodied sheep with no skin wrinkles
  • Improved farming practices such as increased monitoring and crutching (shearing around the tail and between the rear legs of sheep)
  • The use of preventative chemical treatments

We work directly with farmers, we assist with the development and strengthening of animal welfare certification systems, and we fund research into humane solutions, see the report by BG Economics - ‘Towards a Non-Mulesed Future.’

"Brands and consumers are a crucial component of the solution. Hundreds of thousands of people have called for an end to mulesing and, encouragingly, over 350 brands including Hugo Boss, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Kathmandu, Country Road Group and H&M, have banned mulesed wool. 

Mulesing has been banned in New Zealand and FOUR PAWS won't give up the fight until it no longer happens in Australia. It is time for the Australian wool industry to put mulesing in the past and prepare for the future.” says Rebecca Picallo Gil, Wool Campaigner at FOUR PAWS.

“Live lamb cutting (mulesing) is no longer accepted by many of the retail brands…we must evolve to accommodate this change in sentiment.”

Chad Taylor, producer who stopped live lamb cutting, Central West NSW, Australia 

Jessica Medcalf with a sheep

FOUR PAWS’ Jessica Medcalf with Henry at Where Pigs Fly animal sanctuary

What You Can Do 

Source

1. Managing non-mulesed sheep, WA Department of Agriculture. https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/livestock-parasites/managing-non-mulesed-sheep

Additional references:
“ Today there are over 1 billion sheep in the world!“: Overview of sheep production systems, Stephen T. Morris. DOI:10.1016/B978-0-08-100718-1.00002-9   Unfortunately, these wrinkles provide the ideal conditions for fly larvae to grow, and this makes sheep particularly susceptible to a painful condition called ‘flystrike’ ”: Sheep Flystrike Risk Factors, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI). https://www.wool.com/news-events/news/sheep-flystrike-risk-factors/
„2-12 weeks“:  Tail docking and mulesing, Meat & Livestock Australia. 
MLA Corporate. https://www.mla.com.au/research-and-development/animal-health-welfare-and-biosecurity/husbandry/tail-docking-and-mulesing/ 

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