Mulesing: The times are changing
Mulesing is a quick and effective way of controlling flystrike in Merino sheep which is why it is popular with producers. However, mulesing is extremely painful. Now, the use of pain relief for mulesing is set to become mandatory in Victoria with the support of the Victorian Farmers Federation.
Pain relief for mulesing has been available for over a decade and although it is widely used in the industry, it’s use is not mandatory. Industry groups are divided over the issue of mandatory pain relief with some groups endorsing it and others opposed.
However, Victoria has included mandatory pain relief, with the support of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF), in updated animal welfare regulations after a review of the State’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations which underpin their animal welfare laws. The public consultation period on the proposed new regulations closed on 25 September and analysis of the feedback is underway with new regulation to be released in December.
Industry has been under pressure for some time to address the issue of mulesing. Continued use of mulesing has led to the sheep industry being targeted by activists.
VFF Livestock Group Chairman Leonard Vallance was quoted in the news media saying there is a lot of pressure on the industry to address the mulesing issue once and for all. He said 90% of sheep producers in Victoria use pain relief already due to the better result in lamb recovery afterwards.
He said a lot of work is underway to find viable alternatives through genetics or different ways of removing wool from around the breech of the sheep. But, in the interim, the industry was still reliant on mulesing.
Mr Vallance advocated use of pain relief as an important way of protecting farmers’ social licence to farm, saying the community was calling for more openness and transparency on farms.
Although, pain relief applied at the time of mulesing is helpful, considerable pain and suffering remain as welfare risks. This occurs where products are applied after mulesing cuts are made and the healing process, which occurs for several weeks after mulesing, continues to cause significant pain.
The RSPCA believes that it is unacceptable to continue to breed sheep that are susceptible to flystrike and therefore require an on-going need for mulesing, or other breech modification procedures, to manage flystrike risk.