PRELIMINARY research results indicating sheep freeze branding is a painful procedure for lambs, even when using available pain relief, have been published by the University of Melbourne.
Sheep Central has learned that University of Melbourne researcher Dr Ellen Jongman released her preliminary findings on a sheep freeze branding field trial at a virtual forum on 2 December last year.
One of Dr Jongman’s preliminary conclusions was that freeze branding (with meloxicam pain relief) appears to be more painful than tail docking and castration alone, and similar to mulesing (with meloxicam), on the day of application.
“So it’s not a painless procedure and it may even be similar to mulesing on the day of application.
“But because there is no open wound, the pain and healing on the following days may actually be better for freeze branding; we don’t know that yet, there is still a lot of data that we need to analyse,” she told the 10th National Primary Industries Animal Welfare RD&E Forum.
The results showed that the mothering up time for Merino lambs treated with Meloxicam after freeze branding and mulesing was similar, but this was significantly slower than the time taken by mulesed lambs treated with Tri-Solfen.
“Whether the freeze-branded animals were in pain or whether it’s only the speed that it took to find their mothers, whether it’s pain or whether it’s discomfort, difficult to move, it is hard to establish from just this measurement, but it is often used as one of the measurements indicative of pain,” Dr Jongman said.
The research compared Merino ewe and wether lambs in four groups: 1. The control group – Tail-docking (hot iron) (+ ring castration of male lambs) with meloxicam injection; 2. As controls + liquid N2 application; 3. As controls + surgical mulesing, and; 4. Tail-docking (+ castration of male lambs) + surgical mulesing with Tri-Solfen application. There were 30 lambs per treatment.
Dr Jongman today told Sheep Central she was still finalising the data after doing a different analysis, but this wouldn’t change the results or her research conclusions.
“The numbers might have slightly changed, but the essence hasn’t.”
Dr Jongman believed further assessment of the bare breech area in adult ewes should be performed and more detailed measurements, including physiology, on the days following application should be taken in a more controlled study.
“I’m yet to finalise the final analysis and talk to AgVet Innovations to talk about further research.”
Latest results contradict earlier study
The latest results contradict the results of a 2016 study on the website of AgVet Innovations, the joint venture company formed by freeze branding developer Dr Steinfort and wool broker AWN. That study concluded that freeze branding did not have a negative impact on lambs.
And despite the UniMelb trial preliminary results being known by freeze branding developer Dr John Steinfort, major industry bodies such as Meat & Livestock Australia, the Australian Wool Exchange and WoolProducers, and on the National Primary Industries Animal Welfare RD&E Strategy website for more than three months, no wider disclosure to the wool industry has been made until now.
Dr Steinfort told Sheep Central earlier this week that the COVID-19 pandemic had delayed the freeze branding research and it would not be completed least of all published and peer reviewed by the end of the 2021 NWD review. The veterinarian said “the last I’ve heard” was that the university was going through the trial’s assessments. He did not mention the preliminary findings or that they had been published on the NPIAW RD&E Strategy website.
Today’s disclosure comes just days after AWN pulled out of the AgVet Innovations venture and less than a week before the completion of AWEX’s latest National Wool Declaration review on 24 March. The review is focusing on the NWD with respect to mulesing status, with a particular focus on the identification of wool from sheep treated with liquid nitrogen or freeze branding.
WoolProducers president Ed Storey said he was aware of the preliminary research results by early January, but did not want to pre-empt the NWD review by commenting on whether they would change freeze branding’s status on the NWD.
“People are aware of that information.”
However, New South Wales wool grower Jim Gordon said the preliminary research results should have been released to the broader industry when they were first published. He did not believe industry stakeholders could make a valid submission to the NWD review without examining the research results.
“Definitely not; we need to know the full story.
“This smoke and mirrors stuff is giving me the shits, why can’t we get the truth about everything?
Dr Steinfort could not contacted for comment before this story was published today.
Click here to see a PDF of Dr Jongman’s presentation overheads.
Click here to hear Dr Jongman’s presentations with her preliminary results table. Her presentation starts at 54.39 minutes.