Survey shows most sheep owners don’t manage lamb marking pain

Terry Sim, October 5, 2022

A NATIONAL sheep producer survey indicates most Australian sheep producers don’t use pain management for castration or tail docking, despite readily available options.

However, survey results released today showed the “vast majority” of the 2003 surveyed producers had heard of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep and most had read them.

The guidelines stipulate that tail docking and castration should be accompanied by pain relief when practical and cost-effective methods become available.

The survey results outlined in the Sheep Sustainability Framework’s first On-Farm Insights Report showed that 56 percent of producers surveyed don’t use pain management for tail docking and 75pc don’t provide pain relief for castration.

Of the Merino producers surveyed, 29pc use pain management for castration and 60pc used it for tail docking. Among the non-Merino producers, 19pc of non-Merino producers used pain management for castration and 24pc used it for tail docking.

About 45pc of surveyed producers said pain management for castration was not necessary and 50pc said it wasn’t necessary for tail docking. About a quarter of the surveyed producers have not considered pain management for tail docking and castration and around 20pc believed the procedures were quick and pain management is not practical.

The report pointed out that the local anaesthetic Tri-Solfen was registered for mulesing in 2007 and tail docking and castration in 2016,  and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) Metacam and Buccalgesic were registered for mulesing, tail docking and castration in 2016 (Metacam) and 2017 (Buccalgesic). Numnuts, using a hand-held device to delivers a local anaesthetic (NumOcaine) for ring castration and tail docking by rings was launched in 2019.

Click here to read the On-Farm Insights Report.

More than half surveyed Merino producers mules ewe lambs

More than half the surveyed Merino producers mulesed their ewe lambs and 44pc mulesed males. Eight percent of non-Merino producers surveyed were mulesing ewe lambs and 4pc were mulesing males.

Pain management for mulesing was applied by 92pc of the Merino producers and 89pc of the non-Merino flock owners.

The Australian guidelines state mulesing should be accompanied by pain relief where practical and cost-effective methods are available.

The report quoted research that said the combination of a fast and short acting pain relief and antiseptic (Tri-Solfen) and a longer acting meloxicam pain relief anti-inflammatory product (Buccalgesic or Metacam) provided the most effective pain relief and gives the animal the best chance of recovering faster, addressing the immediate pain and any pain that might occur during the healing process, as well as reducing the possibility of infection. Only 8pc of producers surveyed reported administering anaesthetic in conjunction with an analgesic at mulesing.

First SSF Consultative Committee meeting

The On-Farm Insights Report and national producer survey results were outlined by Meat & Livestock Australia’s manager of sheep sustainability, Sarah Hyland, at the Sheep Sustainability Framework hosts first consultative committee meeting last Wednesday.

More than 50 key stakeholders from across the Australian sheep and wool industry met in Melbourne for the inaugural meeting of the SSF Consultative Committee.

SSF Sustainability Steering Group chair, Dr Scott Williams, said the consultative committee meeting provided an important forum to share the latest developments of the framework, seek feedback from industry and collect valuable insights to inform future priorities and improvement.

“The SSF was launched in early 2021 as the first sustainability framework for the sheep and wool industries in the world, and this is an important milestone in its evolution and our work towards better understanding opportunities, challenges and impacts in key areas such as environmental health, animal care, economic resilience, and people and communities.

“Having such strong representation from across industry meant we could engage in a well-considered discussion of priority issues capturing a variety of perspectives from across the value chain,” Dr Williams said.

The meeting also included presentations from subject matter experts about new foundational framework data, including:

Visualisation of vegetative cover for sheep grazing regions – Phil Tickle, managing director, Cibo Labs

Determination of emissions intensity of sheep meat and wool using Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) – Dr Steve Wiedemann, managing rirector, Integrity Ag and Environment

Frameworks, disclosures and standards: what does this mean for agriculture – Dr Robyn Leeson, principal, STR Consulting and vice chair of the Global Reporting Initiative Global Sustainability Standards Board.

Dr Williams said the presentations delivered valuable insights into how industry is tracking, including the first On-Farm Insights Report which presents relevant data from the recently completed National Producer Survey and provides important benchmarking data for the SSF.

“It enables the Australian sheep and wool industry to understand where we are currently sitting in terms of sustainability on-farm and will allow industry to track progress in the adoption of key sustainability measures.

“This data also supports industry in demonstrating it has a clear pathway towards continual improvement and is striving to be the most sustainable in the world,” he said.

At the meeting was a blend of producers and representatives from Sheep Producers Australia, WoolProducers Australia, MLA, Australian Wool Innovation, state farming organisations, Animal Health Australia and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (trade and market access, traceability), as well as businesses in the processing, finance and retail sectors such as AWEX, Endeavour Wool Exports, Thomas Foods International, Gundagai Meats, Australian Lamb Company, Coles, NAB and Rabobank.



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  1. Gayle Hart, October 7, 2022

    I would like to see a reflection in sales and some credit for those using the pain relief.

  2. Simon Gatenby, October 6, 2022

    A good article on pain relief.

    As some of us have been saying for a while with selling our wool: it shouldn’t be whether it is non-mulesed or not; it should be are you using pain relief or not at lamb marking.

    We have been using Buccalgesic on all our lambs each lamb marking for four seasons now. Yet I don’t get any credit for it when we sell our wool. It costs a little more at lamb marking, but the lambs seem to come through the exercise better than without it. Our retained ewe lambs are mulesed and get Tri-solfen as well, but our wether lambs and crossbred lambs aren’t.

    Ironically, you can sell non-mulesed wool and receive a premium as “best practice”, but not use pain relief at lamb marking. One day maybe the market will catch up?

    We all should be using it where we can and if we do the issue of mulsed or unmulsed should realistically be irrelevant. You have provided pain relief at lamb marking.

    • Don Mudford, October 7, 2022

      Don’t mules, use pain relief and get huge premiums, 25 percent over the past three clips. Or should I say mules and don’t use pain relief and receive huge discounts as this is the reality and what the market is doing.

      • Simon Gatenby, October 9, 2022

        And there it is, from the non-mules cult. But when you’re not mulesing and not using pain relief you are still getting the premium. Doesn’t take Einstein to work out this isn’t right. I’m happy knowing pain relief works and allows me to keep mulesing my ewe flock only. During the third La Niña in a row, mulesing is proving its long-held worth for my sheep and my mental health. You, or probably those you employ, can keep taking skin off at crutching time, so you can get your ‘premium’. Go for it, just allow it to be sold as pain relief or not. I’m sure that’s what the market wants, not what it is at present.

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