Livestock production systems must re-consider any “norms” which rely on management interventions which involve mutilations. It is time to think outside the box and look for non-invasive solutions. Let’s take responsibility for our industries, identify the challenges and find the solutions before they are forced upon us by consumer campaigns.
Traditional Merino sheep strains in Australia have woolly wrinkles and folds around the tail and breech area, which are highly susceptible to flystrike. For years, the prevention method has included the removal of the folds of skin around the breech. There are several methods for removing this skin using sharp shears or liquid nitrogen, with or without anaesthesia or pain relief. These methods are referred to as breech modification, museling, steining and freeze branding. Research into finding “better” methods is, in my view a waste of resource. Whichever method is being used, this will never be an acceptable solution.
Root cause analysis identifies the folds as the cause; but rather than removing them, why not breed sheep without the folds!
Australia has commercially viable, plain bodied Merino strains which are far less susceptible to flystrike and need no breech modification. Farmers need to be encouraged to “do the right thing” and introduce this strain into their flocks. This cannot happen overnight, but every journey starts with that first step.
The first step is committing to change, setting a goal and developing an implementation plan to reach this goal. In the meantime, brands (on behalf of their consumers) need to work with their supply chains, to set an end date. In the meantime it is important to continue to support product (wool and meat) from breech modified animals, as an immediate ban in the current Merino flocks would overwhelming harm, both to the animals and the industry. All stakeholders, from producers to consumers need to take a responsible, transparent and joined up approach to achieving a sustainable solution.
With this in mind, it is crucial that the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) amend their National Wool Declaration (NWD) to identify wool where any breech modification has been carried out, irrespective of method. Only this way can we monitor progress towards the goal of a plain bodied Merino flock across Australia.
Together we can make this a reality