Stock Handling & Animal Welfare

NSW farmers urged to speak up on sheep mulesing ban bill

Terry Sim, July 13, 2020

NSW MLC Mark Pearson

NEW South Wales sheep producers have been urged to have their say in an Upper House inquiry on whether to mandate pain relief for mulesing and/or ban the flystrike prevention practice in the state.

NSW sheep producers have until 31 July to respond via an online survey , with the inquiry committee set to report by 24 September.

On 17 June 2020, the NSW Legislative Council’s Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Industry began an inquiry into the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment (Restrictions on Stock Animal Procedures) Bill 2019, put by Animal Justice Party MLC Mark Pearson.

Mr Pearson’s Bill proposes the mandating of pain relief for mulesing and other sheep surgical procedures in NSW and the banning of mulesing after 1 January 2022. More information about the inquiry, including the terms of reference, can be found on the committee’s website here.

The POCTA inquiry followed a report from an NSW Upper House committee inquiring into animal cruelty laws in the state that urged the establishment an independent statutory body, the Independent Office of Animal Protection, to oversight the animal welfare framework.

Mr Pearson, then the committee chair, said the animal cruelty inquiry demonstrated the status quo is no longer acceptable in terms of animal welfare in NSW, with two approved charitable organisations, the RSPCA NSW and Animal Welfare League NSW, responsible for promotion of welfare and the investigation and prosecution of acts of animal cruelty. The committee recommended that a fully-funded specialist unit within the police force be established to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty offences.

Mr Pearson said the committee also recommended that the POCTA Act 1979 and the animal welfare framework that supports it be overhauled to reflect modern knowledge and practices regarding the treatment of animals.

Mr Pearson told Sheep Central the developments were putting enormous pressure on NSW’s Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall to not just do an “uncommitted” overhaul of the state’s “outdated” animal protection legislation.

He said there was a need to potentially take on test cases to prosecute cases where pain relief is not used when mulesing sheep.

“We’ve had legal advice that at the moment even under current legislation you can’t perform a mulesing operation and cause unnecessary pain.

“Because pain relief is available they are causing pain which is unnecessary, but there is no will by the RSPCA or the Animal Welfare League NSW to take that test case.”

Mr Pearson said an Independent Office of Animal Protection working with a special police unit would provide independent resources to undertake animal cruelty cases involving mulesing without pain relief.

Nevertheless, believes “the tide has early turned” in favour of mandating mulesing pain relief and banning mulesing in NSW.

“I think the tide has already turned, it’s just that some constituents in the government and constituents in some farming sectors are not wanting to go with the flow.

“Farmers need to move with it, not against, otherwise they will criticised in the future for not being visionary and they will be criticised for knowingly permitting acute cruelty to millions of lambs.”

Mandating pain relief sets a precedent – NSW Farmers

NSW Farmers president James Jackson

At its 2019 annual general meeting NSW Farmers supported the mandating of local anaesthetic/analgesia during mulesing through an industry-led initiative, but the body’s president, Guyra farmer and and trained veterinarian James Jackson, reiterated today that this did not mean through government regulation.

Mr Jackson had not seen the inquiry’s online survey, but he urged the state’s sheep producers to respond to the inquiry’s online survey. However, he said mandating pain relief through regulation “was a bit liking shutting the gate after the horse has bolted; I mean, most people use pain relief.”

“It’s well over 85 percent I think of sheep in NSW, we actually have the figures on that.

“If they don’t use pain relief they are doing it when the lambs are on the mother and the milk has analgesic in it,” he said.

Mr Jackson said NSW Farmers believed that it is in the welfare interests of sheep to continue using mulesing with pain relief, though some sheep did not need to be mulesed in some environments.

“We strongly recommend pain relief, but we don’t want it mandated, because it is essentially unenforceable and essentially it is better done through market mechanisms.

“I am told there is a premium for wool from sheep mulesed with pain relief, so the idea that there is any amount of it from people who are not using pain relief is nonsense.”

Mr Jackson said the pain profile of mulesing depended on when it was done, ie the age of the lamb.

“The reality is that the timing of the operation is more critical to the pain profile of the operation than actually spray-on pain relief.

“The best pain relief is actually a bag full of milk under the ewe and some of the amino acids (in the milk) have quite strong analgesic functions,” he said.

“The operation is less painful for the animal if it is done four weeks after birth and if it is done after they are weaned the pain profile of the operation and the healing profile is a lot longer.”

But he said NSW Farmers did not want the time of mulesing mandated either, “because that’s not always … you know the wheels fall off and people can’t always do it.”

Mr Jackson said the problem with mandating pain relief for mulesing was that it created a precedent for regulating pain relief for other husbandry interventions on sheep “that hurt them more than mulesing.”

“The classic one is shearing; shearing is very, very stressful for sheep and in a lot of cases it takes more skin off than mulesing.

“If you set a precedent that painful operations or operations that create blood have to be accompanied by pain relief then you are setting a precedent that is going to cause a necessity that essentially there will be an imperative then to use pain relief at shearing and at crutching time,” he said.

Mr Jackson said tail docking also hurt lambs more than mulesing.

“The idea that you can contain it at mulesing is rubbish.”

He said the other problem is that sheep producers who did not mules were becoming “Clik junkies.”

“The idea that that chemical is going to be around forever is fanciful.”

Mr Jackson said breeding bare-breeched sheep is a really good option, but he disputed the claim this could be done in two years.

“The reality is that mandating everything is the thin edge of the wedge.

“So the principal problem that you’ve got with mandating it is the precedent that it will set and it will embed huge amounts of cost into our system and not improve the outcome of the sheep particularly.”


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  1. Denis Wright, July 30, 2020

    While ever it is legal to own sheep, grow wool and eat red meat it is important that farmed animals are treat with respect and methods of management are used that best achieve their general welfare.
    Flystrike is incredibly painful and cruel. It kills slowly. Mulesing is a “once in a lifetime” operation which in my experience of sixty years as a wool producer almost eliminates breech strike in Merino sheep. Mulesing should be accompanied with pain relief.
    When my sheep are mulesed they walk away after the operation and start eating. Non-mulesed sheep get fly-blown unless they are treated repeatedly with chemicals.
    Surely consumers of red meat would prefer that; as little chemical used as possible to produce the meat that they are still allowed to consume.

  2. Marian McGann, July 21, 2020

    Timelines and hidden agendas:
    2019 The Right to Farm Bill – made it unlawful for activists to enter farms.
    On 17 June 2020, the NSW Legislative Council’s Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Industry began an inquiry into the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment (Restrictions on Stock Animal Procedures) Bill 2019 put by Animal Justice Party MLC Mark Pearson.
    There has also been an inquiry into creating a new Independent Office of Animal Protection – replacing the RSPCA and current processes Mark Pearson deems as ‘outdated’ and requiring replacing.
    Animal activists have identified the Australian livestock industry as a soft target – it is big business. PETA earns over $40m per annum and needs another way to get onto our farms to keep their media campaigns alive.
    I have no idea how we defend ourselves without government protection. Mark Pearson, I believe, is trying to get around the Right to Farm Bill.
    I believe we tell it as it is. Our industry is in perpetual motion when it comes to animal husbandry practice – best animal practices in the world.
    Animal activists need soft targets to attract millions of dollars in donations. We, the farmers, need brave organisations to get out there and use our levies to educate the public why we do what we do and challenge the fanatics.
    Let’s not cower on this mulesing issue – because who is going to be next?

  3. Michael Ryan, July 20, 2020


  4. Bruce Pengilly, July 16, 2020

    Last week, four shearers managed 764 Merino hoggets @ approximately 45kg liveweight, in a day. When asked, was the absence of mulesing an issue, the reply was ‘no’ across the board. We still use Tri-Solfen for the tailing. This is our second year of not mulesing and we also have not used Clik; however. we do shear at eight months.
    Plain-bodied Merinos can still cut as much wool — we average 5kg per shearing — and our lambing this year was 100 percent to ewes joined.
    Time will tell if we get a premium for our wool; however, we are finding it hard to find a market for our ewes as buyers are backing away when they find out the mulesing status.

  5. Doug Wright, July 14, 2020

    I don’t see mulesing as an issue. By using the genetic solution it is possible to have a flock of plain-bodied mules-free sheep in two sheep generations.
    By doing this, many problems are solved, giving the market what it wants (Marketing 101), fertile easy-care sheep and something that can be shorn without removing skin, as outlined in the article. Overall a win for all, including the wool-producing sheep.

  6. Chick Olsson, July 14, 2020

    “The classic one is shearing; shearing is very, very stressful for sheep and in a lot of cases it takes more skin off than mulesing.”

    “The best pain relief is actually a bag full of milk under the ewe and some of the amino acids (in the milk) have quite strong analgesic functions,” he said.

    Seriously, whose side is he on? Time for a new NSW Farmers president before he does any more damage.

    • Andrew Newtown, July 17, 2020

      Well join up and and vote like the rest of us. He is there because more people voted for him than the next bloke.

  7. Jim Gordon, July 14, 2020

    Mr James Jackson.
    I am dumbfounded. You have just mapped out all the things the welfare groups need to focus on. It is bad enough that we have to deal with the mulesing issue. You have just bought every other practice we do on farm into play. Where do these leaders come from? You are a vet for god sake. You are meant to be smart.

    1. You can breed a sheep in two sheep generations that won’t need to be mulesed.

    2. Welfare groups are not interested in pain relief. They want the practice of removing excess skin of the breech of a sheep stopped. They are the reason this has all started and they are getting stronger every day. They are not going away.

    3. Shearers love shearing plain-bodied Merinos and they don’t cut them.

    4. If you have wrinkly sheep you must mules them. Unmulesed wrinkly sheep are the worst nightmare. You have to get the hard wrinkle off your sheep first before you stop mulesing, otherwise the flies will eat them alive.

    5. Can someone please tell me why sheep producers don’t want to change their sheep to a Merino that doesn’t get flyblown, doesn’t need to be mulesed and will be more fertile?

    Everyone was happy to swing over to polled sheep. What is the difference, why can’t everyone breed sheep without hard wrinkle? Talk to me, what is it? Is it a tribal thing, or do you want to beat PETA, what is it? Australian Wool Innovation is stuck on it as well and it is costing us $100 million a year.

    • James Jackson, July 16, 2020

      Just a couple of supplementary comments.
      1) The comment about analgesic in milk is correct, but not well known. Sheep’s milk at about four weeks into a lactation has very high protein levels. Later in the lactation it has high levels of energy. It has five times the tryptophan level of human milk and more than bovine milk. Tryptophan, isoleucine and leucine all have analgesic actions at the level found in sheep’s milk. It works through potentiating morphine receptors in the body. The milk also aids in the wound healing process. That is why, when I was involved in the sheep guidelines process (best practise discussion), I insisted that mulseing and docking in this window is best practice, and has the most impact on the pain profile and healing profile of the operation. Used with or without Tri-Solfen, the healing profile and pain profile of the operation is superior than if the operations are done later. Tri-Solfen gives better pain relief in the first 24-hour block of recovery than milk alone. The milk, is of course available beyond the 24 hour that spray-on analgesic works. As it is not always possible to mules in this window, I would advise that timing of painful husbandry interventions are not mandated in regulation, but are promoted as best practice.
      It disappoints me that industry R&D has not more forensically looked at milk. MLA did run a program of self-selection for oral analgesics in a block, but I haven’t seen anything out of that project yet. I suspect that dietary manipulation with bypass proteins may potentiate milk protein. Try getting the MLA to do anything about pain relief that doesn’t come out of a bottle… A bit more virtue signalling than practical research, me thinks.

      • Donald Cameron, July 16, 2020

        Me thinks, while no doubt well-intentioned, politically your comments are some what naive.

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