Learn about the cruel process that lambs face in Australia
More details about mulesing:
Flystrike: There is a longstanding notion that the more wrinkles (excess skin) a sheep has, the more and higher quality wool the sheep will produce. For that reason, Merino sheep have been selectively bred with excess skin for hundreds of years. Breeding for excess skin has created an animal who is highly susceptible to flystrike. Flystrike in sheep begins when blowflies lay their eggs in sheep’s skinfolds. Blowflies are particularly attracted to skinfolds that retain moisture, especially faeces and urine, as they create the ideal environment for their maggots to grow. The areas primarily affected are around the hindquarters, mostly in the area known as the ‘breech’ of a sheep. After hatching, maggots bury themselves into the skin and flesh, and sheep can quickly become infested. These maggots can create wounds that, if left undetected and untreated, can lead to debilitating pain and even death.
Mulesing: In the 1920s, in response to regular outbreaks of flystrike in Australia, John Mules developed a quick and cheap technique to reduce the risk of flystrike: a mutilation called mulesing. The process of mulesing generally entails the restraint of 2 to 10-week-old lambs on their back in a metal cradle, while strips of skin around their breech and tail are cut away using sharp shears. Once the wound heals, the scar tissue left behind is smooth and bare, free of wool and wrinkles. Generally, the bare breech is less likely to attract flies and therefore flystrike. The cruel practice is usually done without adequate pain relief. The young lambs experience severe stress and declines in weight gain at a time when they should be growing. Lambs avoid the person who mulesed them for up to five weeks after the procedure. It is absolutely clear that this procedure causes severe pain and stress to the young lamb. This practice is not just outdated, it does not even prevent flystrike on other parts of the animal (bodystrike). Nevertheless, there is a pain-free and full-body solution to the problem (see solution). Mulesing is currently only practiced in Australia. While mulesing is banned by law in the neighbouring country New Zealand, the practice is entirely legal in Australia, with or without the use of pain relief. It is estimated that annually more than ten million lambs are mulesed.
Freeze Mulesing/Steining: Similarly, to mulesing, freeze mulesing is a mutilation or modification of the breech area of lambs. The main difference to mulesing is that liquid nitrogen is used instead of shears to remove the skin around the breech. Lambs are restrained on their backs and the skin around their breech is exposed to liquid nitrogen. Trials with liquid nitrogen have shown physical signs of pain, distress and discomfort lasting for several days. The affected skin is destroyed, reacting in oedema, exudation of tissue fluid, swellings, and changing of skin colour. Lambs show a rise in heart rate, respiratory rate and higher rectal temperature during and after the mutilation, lasting for hours and even days. Lambs also show reluctance of having their tails handled. Resorting to freeze mulesing would mean replacing one mutilation with another rather than raising sheep that are more flystrike resistant, rendering mulesing unnecessary.
The Solution: The pain-free alternative is good management and the transition to more flystrike-resistant sheep breeds – ‘smooth’ and ‘plain’ instead of ‘wrinkly’ sheep. According to wool growers who have transitioned and stopped mulesing, the change takes around 3-5 years. More than 1,000 wool growers in Australia have successfully transitioned to more flystrike-resistant plain or smooth-bodied Merino sheep, proving that mulesing is no longer necessary. All major wool suppliers can provide certified and reliably traced mulesed-free wool (Wool with a Butt). More than 100 brands are against mulesing and a number of them already sell mulesed-free wool products. FOUR PAWS asks the wool industry and especially brands to take responsibility for the welfare of the sheep in their wool supply chains. Brands must set and communicate their timelines for a phase-out of mulesed wool. A clear commitment from brands will send their supply chains a reliable demand signal to transition away from mulesing. If you want brands to go mulesed-free sign our petition calling on brands to phase out mulesed wool: https://help.four-paws.org/en/sign-protect-lambs-mulesing
Brands: Due to the growing concern from consumers, over 100 international retailers and brands have policies against mulesing. A number of brands are already taking responsibility for the welfare of animals in their supply chains and offer certified and traced mulesed-free wool (Wool with a Butt). Despite this, the Australian wool industry which produces 80% of the world’s fine apparel wool is not yet adapting at the same pace. Brands have the power to influence the wool industry and ensure higher animal welfare is positioned at the top of their agenda. If you want to find out which brands are against mulesing and which have already taken concrete steps to phase out mulesed wool check out our brands list!