Do you know what Mulesing is ?
Comment – and to think that Aus sheep suffer this before they suffer the live export trade !
Mulesing is the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the breech (buttocks) of a sheep to prevent flystrike (myiasis). The wool around the buttocks can retain feces and urine, which attracts flies.
The scar tissue that grows over the wound does not grow wool, so is less likely to attract the flies that cause flystrike.
Mulesing is a common practice in Australia for this purpose, particularly on highly wrinkled Merino sheep. Mulesing is considered by some to be a skilled surgical task. Mulesing can only affect flystrike on the area cut out and has no effect on flystrike on any other part of the animal’s body.
Mulesing is a controversial practice. The National Farmers Federation of Australia says that “mulesing remains the most effective practical way to eliminate the risk of ‘flystrike’ in sheep” and that “without mulesing up to 3,000,000 sheep a year could die a slow and agonising death from flystrike”.
The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) “recognises the welfare implications of mulesing of sheep. However, in the absence of more humane alternatives for preventing breech strike, the AVA accepts that the practice of mulesing should continue as a sheep husbandry procedure”. The AVA also supports the use of analgesics and the accreditation of mulesing practitioners.
The Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals accepts mulesing when the risk of flystrike is very high, when it is done properly, and even then only as a last resort. The animal rights organisation PETA strongly opposes mulesing, says the practice is cruel and painful, and that more humane alternatives exist, and claim that sheep can be spared maggot infestation through more humane methods, including special diets and spray washing.
In July 2009, representatives of the Australian wool industry scrapped an earlier promise, made in November 2004, to phase out the practice of mulesing in Australia by 31 December 2010. Mulesing is being phased out in New Zealand.
Mulesing is a procedure which, in Australia, is carried out by a person who has completed the mandatory accreditation and training programme, usually a professional mulesing contractor.
While the lamb is under restraint (typically in a marking cradle), the wrinkled skin in the animal’s breech (rump area) is cut away from the perianal region down to the top of the hindlimbs. Originally, the procedure was typically performed with modified wool-trimming metal shears, but now there are similar metal shears designed specifically for mulesing. In addition, the tail is docked and the remaining stump is sometimes skinned. The cuts are executed to avoid affecting underlying muscle tissue.
The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries states in the Standard Operating Procedures that, “While the operation causes some pain, no pre or post operative pain relief measures are used”. Antiseptics, anaesthesia and painkillers are not required by Australian law during or after the procedure but are often applied, as the procedure is known to be painful to the animal. Products have been approved for pain relief during the procedure, including Tri-Solfen. The minor use permit for Tri-Solfen makes the product available for use by both veterinarians and sheep industry employees, such as mulesing contractors and graziers.
After a heavy mules, non-wooled skin around the anus (and vulva in ewes) is pulled tight, the cut heals and results in smooth scar tissue that does not get fouled by fæces or urine. Most sheep have a light mules which does not leave the skin bare, but simply removes the skin wrinkle leaving a reduced area to grow wool and stain.
When managed according to the standards, policies and procedures developed by the CSIRO, lambs are normally mulesed a few weeks after birth. The operation usually takes less than a minute. Standard practice is to do this operation simultaneously with other procedures such as ear marking, tail docking, and vaccination. Because the procedure removes skin, not any underlying flesh or structure, there is little blood loss from the cut other than a minor oozing on the edges of the cut skin.
Mulesed lambs should be released onto clean pasture. The ewes and suckling lambs should receive minimal disturbance until all wounds are completely healed (about four weeks). Observation should be carried out from a distance.
Mulesing should be completed well before the flystrike season, or else chemical protection should be provided to reduce risk to the lambs and ewes.
Lambs that are slaughtered soon after weaning generally do not need mulesing because they can be protected by chemical treatment for the short time they are at risk.
Comparison to crutching
Mulesing is different from crutching. Crutching is the mechanical removal of wool around the tail, anus (and vulva in ewes) in breeds of sheep with woolly points where this is necessary. Mulesing is the removal of skin to provide permanent resistance to breech strike in Merino sheep. Other breeds tend to have less loose skin, and wool, so close to the tail and may have less dense wool.
Crutching has to be repeated at regular intervals as the wool grows continuously. Frequent crutching of Merinos reduces the incidence of flystrike, but not as much as mulesing.
At the time mulesing was invented, crutching was done with blade shears. In Australia, these have been almost universally replaced with machine shears. Hand shears were being used when Mules inadvertently carried out the procedure during crutching. Mulesing would not inadvertently occur using modern machine shears.
Several non-surgical alternatives are currently being researched:
- Insecticides: Any number of insecticides are now available for prevention of fly strike. and even early reviews proclaimed the effectiveness of using dip across the whole animal, rather than cutting one small portion that left the rest of the animal still susceptible “dipping is still the most cost effective means of protecting sheep from flystrike”. 
- Topical protein-based treatments which kill wool follicles and tighten skin in the breech area (intradermal injections)
- Biological control of blowflies.
- Plastic clips on the sheep’s skin folds which act like castration bands, removing the skin (breech clips).
- Tea tree oil as a 1% formulation dip where tests have shown a 100% kill rate of first stage maggots and a strong repellent effect against adult flies, which prevented eggs being laid on the wool for up to six weeks.