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AWI's Approach


Woolgrower and Merino sheep.

AWI takes an evidence-based, welfare science approach to managing flystrike risk, based on two key principles:

  • Best practice, evidence-based science.
  • Stepwise, sustainable animal welfare improvements.

AWI set long and short term goals for its comprehensive research and development (R&D) program in flystrike prevention and welfare.

Long Term

The ultimate, long-term goal is to remove the need for mulesing to prevent flystrike in Australian sheep through:

  1. Management: advances in non-invasive management practices such as crutching, jetting, accelerated shearing, short joining and lambing, worm control,  and nutrition.
  2. Breeding: genetic research and enhanced breeding for flystrike resistance in wool sheep.

AWI recognises that sheep breeding programs take time, leaving many sheep vulnerable to flystrike in the short term.

Short Term

The more immediate goal is to replace traditional mulesing (performed without pain relief) with welfare-improved practices including:

  1. Welfare-improved surgery with pain relief.
  2. Non-surgical methods of removing breech wrinkle (intradermals).

Progress

Strong progress is being made to manage the risk of flystrike in sheep.

A significant proportion of woolgrowers have removed the need for the traditional procedure in some or all of their sheep.

Where the risk of sheep flystrike remains high, many woolgrowers are replacing traditional procedures with welfare-improved practices - such as welfare-improved surgery with pain relief - while longer term breeding programs are underway.

The National Wool Declaration (NWD) system gives woolgrowers the option to document their flystrike control practices through the wool auction selling system. The NWD provides transparency and choice in the marketplace.

A Historical Perspective


Merinos grazing in a sheltered, grassy paddock.

Flystrike has been a serious risk to the health and welfare of Australian sheep since the accidental introduction of the Lucilia cuprina blowfly to Australia in the early 1900s.

The L. cuprina blowfly lays eggs, usually around the rear end of sheep. The eggs hatch into maggots beneath the wool, causing severe suffering as they break through the skin and feed off underlying tissue. Flystrike is difficult to detect early and can be rapidly fatal.

In the 1930s, flystrike rates of up to 60 to 120 per cent led to the introduction of a surgical procedure called mulesing in an attempt to control the problem. It was highly successful.

In this procedure, a loose fold of skin is removed from each side of the sheep's breech and tail. The procedure is performed once, when lambs are young and are able to recover swiftly. The wound contracts to form a smooth scar, minimising the opportunity for blowfly eggs to hatch.

Mulesing combined with good animal husbandry practices cut flystrike rates to 1 to 3 per cent, and greatly improved sheep welfare.

In response to welfare concerns about traditional mulesing of lambs, the Australian wool industry introduced welfare-improved flystrike prevention practices. The industry also fast-tracked research into management and breeding programs to reduce the risk of flystrike.

While the 2010 target date to end mulesing has passed, many woolgrowers have already replaced traditional mulesing with welfare-improved practices.

AWI has a proactive, intensive and committed research and development program in place to remove the need for mulesing over time, and to ensure the health and welfare of sheep in the interim.

Further Information