A Callawadda sheep crutcher has raised concerns farmers might forego mulesing due to increased costs in the wake of the new Victorian laws that mandate the use of pain relief.
As of Wednesday July 1, Victorian producers were required to administer a registered pain-relieving product if mulesing sheep, in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (POCTA) 2019.
Michael Dignan said while he didn't disagree with the practice of using pain relief, the impact of associated costs could curb some farmers to cut corners.
"I work with sheep daily and have seen the destruction flystrike can do to a sheep," he said.
"Mulesing is the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the buttocks of a sheep to prevent the parasitic infection flystrike. The wool around the buttocks can retain faeces and urine, which attracts flies."
Mr Dignan said he was constantly researching strategic methods which avoided mulesing but hadn't found a suitable alternative.
"It's a balance, it really is," he said. "For generations, people have mulesed sheep and for a very good reason - flystrike is cruel.
"There is a balance and I think in the scales are tipped too quickly in one direction before the other can be boosted up the results can be disastrous."
Mr Dignan said farmers would need to look at their shearing and crutching schedule if they wanted to forego mulesing.
"When the time comes to shear there are a number of things that need to be considered," he said. "Changes, including increased frequency, to shearing and crutching schedules could lead to increased demand in an industry that's already struggling to get workers."
The CSIRO states the Australian wool and sheepmeat industries face lost production costs in excess of $200 million per year from flystrike. Flystrike and the contentious control measure, mulesing, represent significant welfare issues that are increasingly becoming less acceptable by retailers and consumers.
In an Agriculture Victoria webinar, the University of Melbourne's Mackinnon Project senior consultant John Webb Ware said evidence suggested many producers across the country were headed towards ceasing mulesing, so they needed to be aware of how this affected the management of their flock.
He said if you were thinking about transitioning to a non-mulesed flock, there were a lot of things to consider, including your climate, your breed of sheep and your existing labour resources and event timing.
"I have no doubt that the biggest impact and management issues will be on flocks in higher rainfall areas where there are more moisture and more breech strike due to worms and dags," he said.
"In a lot of prime lambs, it can be pretty easy but there's a big variation in terms of management in Merinos.
"In larger flocks, it can add an extra level of complexity in terms of supervision of management."
But he said these issues were all manageable.
"It is important to talk about genetic progress and for a start it is slow but it is permanent and accumulative," he said.
"Over a period of time, you can make a meaningful difference to the breach of your sheep."
Dr Webb Ware acknowledged that there were additional costs associated with switching to a non-mulesed operation, and to illustrate the overall cost this would have, brought up a case study of an 8100 dry sheep equivalent flock.
"Their initial management was shearing in February, and May for weaners, crutching in December, and breech jetting in October," he said.
"In a post-mulesing scenario, there are new additions to the management calendar, including breach jetting in March, and additional crutching in July."
Additional costs included shearing which would increase by $2306, crutching by $11,500, chemicals by $970 and loss of wool through crutching and dags by $6000.
Premiums and savings on mulesing costs totalled about $7000, and in total, it meant additional spending of $16,600 per year.
"Everybody should be thinking about how they can move forward with this in terms of managing their flock into the future," Dr Webb Ware said.
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