Lamb Production

Non-mulesed flocks act on sheep freeze branding status

Terry Sim, December 9, 2019

Karbullah Poll Merinos co-principal Mark Murphy

AWEX is maintaining silence on its position on sheep freeze branding as some Merino breeders mount a campaign opposing the procedure’s recognition as a ‘non-mulesed’ classification on the National Wool Declaration.

An email from the Queensland Merino breeders Mark and Vicki Murphy last week said they had heard that the issue of sheep freeze branding and a move to legalise it in the AWEX definition of “non-mulesed” would be discussed at an AWEX board teleconference last Friday.

Growers were urged to contact either AWEX or Wool Producers Australia if they wanted to comment on the issue before the teleconference.

“We strongly object to this being considered as a “non-mulesed” classification in the sale of wool and, therefore, on the National Wool Declaration.

“The industry needs to show clear and concise leadership on the definition of non-mulesing to the world and our customers, manufacturers and retail,” the Murphy email said.

“Any procedure undertaken is not ‘non-mulesed’.

“Auditing of such a practice for ‘Non-Mulesed’ status will be severely compromised and will affect our marketing of the Australian wool clip,” they said.

The Murphy email urged interested people to contact either AWEX or Wool Producers Australia if they wanted to comment.

Sheep freeze branding has been accepted by many Merino wool growers who see it as an alternative to surgical mulesing, but it has had mixed acceptance from some retailers and brands pending pain research. It is also not supported by some animal welfare groups and integrity schemes, such as the Responsible Wool Standard and New Merino, which regard it is a form of breech modification.

Wool from sheep treated with freeze branding and clips is currently categorised as ‘non-mulesed’ on the NWD, because under the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep, mulesing is the removal of skin from the breech and/or tail of a sheep using mulesing shears.

Mr Murphy did not believe anyone could audit sheep flocks and tell the difference between an animal mulesed with shears or one treated with sheep freeze branding.

“That’s going to muddy the waters big time.

“The consumer will be all over it, there is no way in the world they will allow that to happen and we are the guinea pigs in it all.

“Those of us who have been out there producing sheep that don’t require mulesing are being held to ransom.”

No comment on Friday’s teleconference – Grave

AWEX CEO Mark Grave

AWEX chief executive officer Mark Grave would not comment on what was discussed at Friday’s teleconference meeting, except to say that the review of the NWD by AWEX’s Industry Services Advisory Committee is not complete.

However, Mr Grave had confirmed in an interview in August that the “pivotal” review – which has received 56 submissions – would consider the categorisation of sheep freeze branding on the NWD.

“(ISAC) Recommendations have been put forward to the board, that’s their job and that’s their role, but the review is not complete as yet,” Mr Grave said today.

He said he does not know when the NWD review will be complete.

“We just want to make sure that the review is thorough and like anyone, you want to make sure that the right decisions are made at the end of it.”

NWD credibility at risk – Oppenheimer

NSW sheep breeder Martin Oppenheimer

New South Wales Merino breeder Martin Oppenheimer believed if sheep freeze branding is categorised as ‘non-mulesed’ on the NWD “that will be the end of the NWD.”

“Already there is pressure on the whole non-mulesed sector, so it just means that we will all have to fall back on the Responsible Wool Standard or similar integrity program that actually means something.

“The NWD ‘non-mulesed’ certification won’t mean a thing, because if it has unacceptable practices in with acceptable practices – acceptable to some of our key customers.

“I fear that they (AWEX) are going to go to water on it,” he said.

He said if AWEX “gets confused” on its NWD ‘non-mulesed’ definition customers who want no breech modification will increasingly turn to buying wool from New Zealand and other countries that has non-mulesed certification under other systems.

Mr Oppenheimer believed that AWEX should not be making a determination on the status of freeze branding until planned pain profile research is finalised.

Sheep freeze branding no mulesing – WoolProducers

WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall said the current definition of mulesing refers to ‘the removal of skin from the breech and/or tail of a sheep using mulesing shears’.

“WoolProducers, therefore, believes that under the definition freeze branding is not mulesing.”

Ms Hall said the current definition of mulesing has been in existence since 2009 and is included in the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep, which has been endorsed by all state and territory governments.

“Further to that definition, the Standards and Guidelines are explicit in stating that ‘Mulesing does not include nonsurgical approaches that deliver analogous outcomes for the sheep such as clips, intra-dermal injections of chemicals or other future, non-cutting technologies.’

“Given the length of time that this definition has been in place and the acceptance by both industry and government, WoolProducers does not see any need for a change in the mulesing definition.”


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  1. John Symons, December 10, 2019

    It’s difficult to comprehend the thought process of wool growers who would condemn the use of any form of breech modification. Let’s allow a full assessment of animal discomfort associated with appropriate pain relief of the ‘steining’ (freeze branding) process before we jump into bed with a vocal minority who are hell-bent on destroying the wool growing industry. Science proved years ago that mulesing was by far the best single management tool to control breech strike in sheep. We at one stage had about 3 percent of our flock unmulesed as part of a program to breed bare breech rams and that 3pc accounted for about 90pc of breech strike on our property.
    I have no problem with moving to bare breech highly productive wool growing sheep, but spare a thought for those of us operating in high rainfall environments with economical stocking rates that don’t rely on high chemical use or multiple crutching.
    For those of you who value the premium of non-mulesed wool, enjoy it while you can, because once we all move into your niche market it will disappear, that’s if the industry survives. Most will opt for a prime lamb enterprise and move into an industry that appears to have more intelligent leaders.

    • Jim Gordon, December 10, 2019

      John, I have enjoyed reading your comments; however, you of all people, who has run huge businesses understand that the first thing you learn in marketing 101 is to give the customer what they want. It doesn’t matter what you think or me, or AWI, because we don’t buy any wool.
      There isn’t an early processor, brand, retailer or a discerning customer that prefers mulesed wool. They prefer only non-mulesed wool. They don’t want pain relief, freeze branding or mulesed wool. You, know better than most, understand if you don’t change you disappear.
      You talk about the protein drive. I agree with you 100 percent; however, we can have both — a Merino with a beautiful carcase and top quality wool that doesn’t get flyblown and doesn’t need to be mulesed. The only ingredient needed is the ability to change. Why is it so hard to get humans to change?

  2. Chick Olsson, December 10, 2019

    If AWEX classifies wool from freeze branded wool as non-mulesed wool, that is the end of ethically produced non-mulesed wool… industrial madness on a national scale.

  3. Peter Small, December 9, 2019

    Thanks to Jo Hall and WoolProducers for a concise and logical response.

  4. Jack Cleary, December 9, 2019

    “Given the length of time that this definition has been in place and the acceptance by both industry and government, WoolProducers does not see any need for a change in the mulesing definition.”

    That is just infantile, management pathos.

  5. Jack Cleary, December 9, 2019

    I’m a management experienced tradesman /engineer who has been faced with difficulties and resolved them. This mulesing issue is really simple; I give 10 simple steps:
    1) Why mules?
    2) What results in the ‘why’ of mulesing?
    3) What is the least painful in ‘reasonable and practicable’ approach to it?
    4) What are the acceptable alternatives?
    5) Which methods meet QA and buyer specifications?
    6) Determine and refine the acceptable.
    7) Employ only people who are committed to minimising pain to livestock.
    8) Do it.
    9) Maintain records and photographic evidence.
    10) Seek always to improve.
    It’s astounding that after 20-30 years of arguing…we still have the spoiled brat/resistant ‘owner’ approach to proper care of livestock.

    I’ve given a direction to follow…any chance….?

    My regards

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