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AWI takes an evidence-based, welfare science approach to managing flystrike risk. This approach is 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.
The ultimate, long-term goal is to reduce the reliance on mulesing to prevent flystrike in Australian wool sheep through:
Management: advances in non-invasive management practices such as crutching, jetting, accelerated shearing, short joining and lambing, worm control, nutrition and improved fly control including blowfly vaccine development.
Breeding: genetic research and enhanced breeding for flystrike resistance in wool sheep.
The more immediate goal is to replace or refine traditional mulesing (performed without pain relief) with welfare-improved practices including the use of pain relief.
Strong progress is being made to manage the risk of flystrike in wool sheep. A significant proportion of woolgrowers have removed the need for the traditional procedure in some or all of their sheep.
- In 2005, a survey of woolgrowers by the Sheep CRC indicated only 5 per cent of lambs would remain unmulesed.
- In a 2017 survey of 1,200 Merino breeders across Australia, the results showed that 27% of producers were not mulesing ewes and 30% were not mulesing wethers.
- The same survey showed that 83% of Merino lambs mulesed received pain relief.
- 50% of the growers surveyed said they had reduced the size of their mules in the last 10 years.
Introduced in August 2008, the National Wool Declaration (NWD) allows woolgrowers to declare the flystrike control status of their clip.
Woolgrowers can declare their wool as either Non-Mulesed (NM), ceased mulesing (CM wool comes from farms where farmers no longer practice mulesing) or pain relief treated (PR).
External reviews of the AWI breech flystrike research, development and extension (RD&E) program are regularly commissioned to ensure that the program continues to meet industry and stakeholder expectations and to identify opportunities for future research.
The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) biannually reviews the AWI breech flystrike RD&E program, as part of an undertaking to international retailers.
Click on the link to view the latest AVA Audit Report (PDF 1.4Mb).
Independent reviews of the genetic component of the AWI breech flystrike RD&E program are undertaken annually to identify its successes and potential for improvement.
Click on the link to view the latest Genetic Review Report (PDF 244Kb).
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 eat 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 reduce the reliance on mulesing over time, and to ensure the health and welfare of sheep in the interim.