Research and Development

AWI mulesing option trials promising

Terry Sim, August 22, 2014

FINAL approval for the surgical mulesing option SkinTraction was getting close, Australian Wool Innovation program manager Geoff Lindon said today.

AWI’s program manager for productivity and animal welfare oversaw a national R&D technical update on breech flystrike prevention in Sydney this week for woolgrowers, researchers, consultants, veterinarians and welfare experts.

The update meeting discussed the latest developments and trial results from Australian Wool Innovation’s (AWI) flystrike prevention program, including details on laser technology, the off-patent non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory Meloxicam.

Mr Lindon said on-farm commercial trials of liquid nitrogen applications were about to start, Meloxicam has shown promising results, but its use for the castration and tail-docking of sheep was still up to two years away. New laser technology for wool follicle removal was being investigated.

Animals Australia executive directpor Glenys Oogjes said the research and extension work of AWI is laudable, however the level of take up by producers of pain relief for painful procedures such as mulesing and even making moves to stop mulesing, particularly through breeding efforts, is really disappointing.

Mr Lindon said proof of concept has not been achieved for lasers to remove wool follicles, but new technology would be assessed for its promise to do another scoping study.

“With the laser we are aiming to use energy from a laser to send heat down the fibre and destroy the follicle bulb to get permanent wool removal.

“We are looking at fly control because of the reduction you get when you crutch, but we are also looking at it as a permanent wool removal in terms of crutching and shearings costs in the wig, the ring and the crutch.”

Mr Lindon said Cobbett Technologies is in negotiations with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority on label requirements for the SkinTraction technology – the needle-less injection of sodium lauryl sulphate to flatten breech wrinkles.

“So we are quite encouraged that we will soon be able to satisfy APVMA’s label requirements leaving them then to approve registration.

“So it is getting close.”

Mr Lindon said proof of concept has been achieved for liquid nitrogen applications after scoping studies with the CSIRO and on small numbers of sheep in Victoria that showed “quite minimal” animal welfare impacts.

“The trials weren’t big enough for us to statistical analysis, but just observing the animals.

“We’ve now commenced a bigger project with John Steinfort, Steinfort Agvet, to improve the equipment and then conduct formal trials on animals,” he said.

It is envisaged the trials would involve an animal lying on its belly in a cradle to keep breech and tail skin loose, with four clamps – two each on the breech and tail – with tubes feeding liquid nitrogen to freeze the skin.

“The skin wrinkle is lifted up away from the body as the liquid nitrogen goes into that skin flap and takes it down to about minus 50-60 degrees centigrade,” Mr Lindon said.

“The skin cells then freeze and in that process the water expands and on thawing, all the cells are ruptured.

“So you then end up with a bruise similar to a SkinTraction bruise and in the process of healing the bruised skin slowly lifts and becomes a scab,” he said.

“As new skin heals in underneath, the wrinkle falls off and you end up with a tightening and stretching of the natural bare area.

“It is encouraging enough for us to continue investing in.”

Mr Lindon said Troy Laboratories in New South Wales have been studying the use of Meloxicam for castration and tail-docking in sheep and castration in cattle.

“It’s a small amount of paste that it is inserted on the side of the cheek between the teeth – a blue gel that is almost sort of drenched in there.

“The Meloxicam is absorbed very quickly through the cheek membranes – within eight minutes it reaches maximum blood concentration.

“We’ve had some really quite promising results in terms of behavioural response for the castration and tail-docking.”

Meloxicam would be release for the castration of cattle in November this year.

“Sheep will then follow some one to two years later.

“They are focussing on castration and tail-docking of sheep because there is a larger market and in the near future we will be doing some mulesing trials with Meloxicam.

“So it is still one or two years away for castration and tail-docking for sheep and then we would hopefully have it soon after for registration for mulesing.”

Mr Lindon said the next step were trials comparing all the new treatments together, involving full animal welfare assessments. Assessments on liquid nitrogen impact have only been done on a visual and behavioural level.

“The welfare assessments of liquid nitrogen and the laser show minimal impact on treatment of the animals and are really quite encouraging, but we would need to do formal scientific trials on those.”

Published scientific trials on SkinTraction showed a lesser animal welfare impact than surgical mulesing, but still in some behavioural assessments and physiological measures there is a reasonable amount of tissue swelling and repair going on.

Meloxicam use on sheep showed a considerable improvement in animal behaviour compared to castrated or tail-docked animals not given the drug, Mr Lindon said.

“It is showing significant improvement in the first 24 hours on behavioural indicators,” Mr Lindon said.

Over the past decade woolgrowers, through their research development and marketing body, AWI, have invested $47 million in animal health and welfare research, development extension (RD&E), including more than $27 million on flystrike prevention.

AWI said the sheep and blowfly genome has now been mapped and has been found to contain almost 3000 unique genes that provide opportunities for control. Breeding for breech strike resistance shows how flystrike resistance is highly heritable and evidence was presented at the update that showed ram breeders were responding to the challenge of producing low wrinkle, high fleece weight, high fertility Merinos.

Information on the current levels of larvae resistance to flystrike preventative chemicals was presented at the update and showed that these were still measuring up to label protection periods. The development of aims to assist woolgrowers to best manage blowfly threats.

Mr Lindon said AWI would like progress to be faster, but “nonetheless we need to follow a scientific process and appropriately test new ideas in scoping studies to see if they warrant further work.”

“We assess them fpor weldfare first and then we move onto larger truials – we have still got to take a methocial scientific approach to it.”

Presentations were delivered by CSIRO, Department of Agriculture & Food WA, University of Melbourne, NSW Department of Primary Industries, University of New England and University of Sydney as well as presentations from Troy Laboratories, Cobbett Technologies and Steinfort Agvet.

  • Update presentations will be available next week at



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