AWN exits sheep freeze branding joint venture

Terry Sim, March 18, 2021

AWN managing director John Colley.

AUSTRALIA’S largest independent wool broker, AWN, has handed full control of the business promoting the mulesing alternative, sheep freeze branding, back to its developor John Steinfort.

In 2019, AWN with Dr Steinfort, formed a joint venture – AgVet Innovations — to fund and accelerate the commercialisation of sheep freeze branding process, which the veterinarian had been developing for more than ten years.

AWN said sheep freeze branding is a patented technology that provides an ethical and cost-effective single application solution for the promotion of sheep breech health for life. The company said the process has gained interest in recent years as a welfare-considerate approach to improving sheep breech health whilst advancements in sheep genetics continue to be made.

AWN chief operating officer, Rick Maybury, said the time was right to hand the control of the business back to Dr Steinfort.

“We are incredibly proud to have been part of the commercialisation of sheep freeze branding over the past two years.

“Our journey with sheep freeze branding started with a vision to help commercialise Dr Steinfort’s invention to benefit growers looking to move away from mulesing, and we are pleased to have achieved this,” he said.

“Now that the business has been capitalised and the process has successfully commenced commercialisation, it is the right time to hand control to Dr Steinfort to continue to drive innovation in this area.

“There is no doubt that there is increasing pressure from consumers, brands and the supply chain to move away from mulesing, and sheep freeze branding offers a transitional pathway for wool growers looking to make that transition whilst genetic improvements continue to be made.”

Process is better off separate from any broker – Colley

AWN managing director John Colley said the process of sheep freeze branding “is better held in a private entity not allied to any one particular broker, where politics can sometimes interfere with the business model.”

He said the decision was also not in reaction to recent industry questions about Mr Colley’s position as an AWEX board member while the company conducted its latest review of the National Wool Declaration, which currently classifies sheep freeze branding as a ‘non-mulesed’ process.

“Absolutely not, these sort of decisions are made over a long period of time and the discussions started at the board of AVI a long time before the latest NWD was announced (this month).

“The decision was made long before, and it has nothing t do with this review.”

Joint venture was crucial to process commercialisation

Sheep freeze branding developer Dr John Steinfort.

AgVet Innovations director Dr Steinfort said having the financial backing of another business was a crucial element in getting sheep freeze branding to where it is today.

“I am very grateful to AWN for their support over the past couple of years in helping sheep freeze branding to reach the early stages of commercialisation,” he said.

“Without the backing and support of a business such as AWN, sheep freeze branding would not have been able to operate on the scale and with the efficiency that it does today.

“I am looking forward to continuing to expand sheep freeze branding services across the country.”

AWN said a University of Melbourne trial of sheep freeze branding was conducted in late 2020, with the official report expected to be released later this year.


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  1. Bill Walker, March 20, 2021

    😂 Extra commentary could only instil the obvious, so wise choice AWN.

    Company popularity easily outweighs a risky vested foray into an artificial non-mulesing hope that would inevitably bring on an imminent worldwide backlash. Not good for business that…

    Proven anti-mules genetics is the only answer and the seedstock bed is growing every year. There is choice out there, yet upsetting the grower/non-progressive stud bond of way too many years is vastly becoming the biggest hurdle toward positive change.

    Maybe AWN’s future nexus maybe the rightful connection between those now very important non-mulesing promoting studs that breed the real deal to a supporting/adoring clientele as opposed to those outfits that see freeze branding as the silver bullet to allow the ongoing (impossible) delusional quest to breed more skin-related atrocities to improve fleece weight. Broad show ribbon winners and judges from most states are often guilty of this one

    With the young brigade of wool growers now on the up, that very awkward quest could well be regarded as a new form of rural child abuse.

    We’ve generally reached a fleece weight pinnacle, so it’s time to sway toward the fact that this country needs more lambs as a result of increased fertility, and an understanding of how genetics work, to improve this single trait as well as improving lamb survival at all cost and understanding how to implement nutritional strategies as to spoil number one – the Merino ewe.

    Should freeze branding fall under the same banner as non-mulesed, the assumed and anticipated revolt could then see factions develop that are not needed in an already fragile industry at the minute. Maybe workshops, sponsored by AWN and the likes, as to how easy the genetic transition can be, would be of more value considering the boiling predicament at the moment. We’ve had a decade to think about it after the first threat so it’s time to move – yet again.

    Bill Walker – Director – Classings P/L

    • Andrew Michael, March 21, 2021

      Well said Bill. There is an industry workshop at Hummocks Station, South Australia, on the 9th of April to cover all areas of sheep breeding, from follicle density research (genetic alternative to mulesing), animal welfare and well-being, reproduction, flock profiling, future marketing options and industry leader’s presentations. The presentations will reinforce your thoughts.
      Registrations through Livestock SA.

    • Jim Gordon, March 20, 2021

      Man, how good is this piece. I was so disappointed as an AWN client with John Colley when he told me that he had just returned from Italy, pushing the virtues of freeze branding and had invested in the technology. This was at the annual general meeting of AWI 2019. Well done for a change of direction.
      Wool weight and number of fibres are two different things. We want sheep to produce wool not skin. Skin makes you no money and uses huge resources to build in utero and then maintain with all the problems of flies, mulesing and difficult to shear, etc. The other big negative is the more skin the less lambs. Yes, a workshop, April, May or June.

  2. Don Mudford, March 19, 2021

    Good decision by AWN, as its core business is wool broking and there is no way forward for the selling of wool from breech modified sheep.

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