Research and Development

Sheep freeze branding trial results fast-tracked for NWD review

Terry Sim March 22, 2021

Sheep freeze branding developer John Steinfort.

FINAL preliminary results of a sheep freeze branding trial undertaken by the University of Melbourne will be fast-tracked for the Australian Wool Exchange’s National Wool Declaration review.

Industry stakeholders have until 24 March to make submissions to the NWD review, which is focusing on mulesing status, with a particular focus on the identification of wool from sheep treated with liquid nitrogen or freeze branding.

Sheep freeze brand developer John Steinfort said he had been told by University of Melbourne researcher Dr Ellen Jongman that “the final preliminary results” will be provided to him before Easter.

“And I have requested today that they speed that process up so that AWEX can review appropriate information,” Dr Steinfort said.

“They were the results that I have been waiting for – that have been finalised and reviewed and were ticked off before I say anything,” he said.

Sheep Central this week published Dr Jongman’s preliminary findings on the sheep freeze branding field trial, including a preliminary results table, after learning the data and Dr Jongman’s conclusions had been on the National Primary Industries Animal Welfare RD&E Strategy website since December last year.

One of Dr Jongman’s 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.

Misrepresentation claim

However, in a statement today, Dr Jongman said she was disappointed that Sheep Central had “mis-represented the nature of our preliminary data”.

“This data is not published, but was merely discussed during a scientific meeting.

“While my presentation is publicly available, the data had been removed from the accompanying PDF, so the preliminary results are not seen out of context,” she wrote.

“I had asked you not to use the data as the numbers have changed after adjustment of the data file for animals that had become lame or sick.

“I also pointed out to you that the data on mothering up had changed, as I have now used a more appropriate statistical method,” she wrote.

“Preliminary data is exactly that, it is not published, and it has certainly not been subjected to peer review.”

Dr Jongman said she “strongly disagreed with the suggestion that the data has been kept secret and that it should have been released.”

“It will be released in due course when all data is in and the appropriate analyses have been finalised.

“The data of the whole trial, including effects beyond the first day, need to be discussed in context and relative to other research before any conclusions on the freeze brand technology can be drawn.”

Earlier this week Dr Jongman did tell Sheep Central that she would prefer that the preliminary results data table was not published anywhere else.

“Because they have changed a little, not so much in what they show probably, but in terms of exact numbers.

“It doesn’t really change the result,” she said.

However, Sheep Central expressed the view to Dr Jongman that as the preliminary results table was still included in her presentation on the website, it was appropriate to re-publish the data that was available publicly on the National Primary Industries Animal Welfare RD&E Strategy website. Sheep Central did not suggest in 19 March article that any data had been “kept secret”.

Website presentation is not publication – Steinfort

Dr Steinfort today said he considered the release of the preliminary results on the forum website did not constitute the publishing of the results.

“The preliminary results have not been finalised Terry.

“The data that Ellen (Dr Jongman) went to that lecture with was raw data, without nuances taken out, without revised or reviewed by her supervisors,” he said.

“It was raw data that we gave her permission to show the one slide that you put in your article.”

He said he could not comment on the preliminary results because of the agreement he has with the university.

“And it wasn’t a full preliminary report that we received, all the data wasn’t there and it was only raw data as well.”

Sheep Central article had an “inappropriate narrow focus” – Steinfort

In a further statement to Sheep Central received late today, Dr Steinfort explained why he did not mention Dr Jongman’s preliminary results when asked earlier this week by Sheep Central about the sheep freeze branding research.

Dr Steinfort said he was given an initial report which, “in the researcher’s words, was based on raw data on an incomplete trial findings.”

“And the complete report would be due by end of January 2021.

“This preliminary data is incomplete and not appropriate for AWE judgments to be made.”

Dr Steinfort said he gave the researcher, Dr Jongman, permission to discuss her selected snapshot of this initial data in her forum presentation to an animal welfare forum in December.

“So some of this data became has inadvertently available, but we all knew that this data will change as scientific data checking, scrutiny and reviews would follow.”

Dr Steinfort said he found Sheep Central’s 19 March article to be “constrictive in nature which only leads to misinformation, with an inappropriate narrow focus.’

“This leaves readers with only a partial picture, with often misunderstandings and ultimately with ignorance and resulting industry division.”

Dr Steinfort said he stood by the results of an independently supervised objective weight gain study undertaken in 2016/17 and published on the Agvet Innovations website.

“The average body weight gains were comparable with the lamb mark only group and the lambs with cryogenic breech process.

“There were reduced average weight gains evident in the mulesed group with reduce wool production on first shearing,” he said.

“Trial results evidenced in University of Melbourne trial were similar to what we saw on another property this year, that monitored weight gains of mulesed and sheep freeze branding groups.

“It was concluded the excellent seasonal conditions enhanced the growth rate of the mulesed lambs compared to what would be seen in an average season,” he said.

“The producer commented that the mulesed group looked the best they ever have.”

Dr Steinfort said he stood by the freeze branding process “and what it achieves for producers wishing to utilise a breech process that limits livestock setback, creates manageable breeches with less reliance on chemicals and from farmer feedback, negation of breech flystrike.”

“We refer you to our website for the testimonials of many producers who have utilised the sheep freeze brand process with their consistent and repeatable comments – ‘They look like nothing has happened to them’.

“We are determined to allow the science to stand up for this innovative and effective process, and for the science to be reflective of the animal behaviours we all see that have had the breech process,” he said.

“We always welcome everyone to come and view this process in action and make their own assessments.”

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.


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  1. Doug Wright, March 24, 2021

    Sheep that need breech modification, be it by shears or freeze branding, are being done because of wrinkle. Now, I have yet to work out the obsession with wrinkly Merinos and all the associated issues, but thank goodness the work has been done to develop the plain-bodied highly productive modern Merino. With sheep of this type, there is no need to carry out any breech modification, they are highly fertile and the major consumer brands are wanting wool from them. The genetic solution solves the problem that is occupying so much time at present.

  2. Paul Favaloro, March 23, 2021

    At times raw data is more relevant than the massaged statistical results. As far as keeping secrets, our governing bodies constantly try pulling the wool over our eyes. Thank you Sheep Central for keeping us informed.

  3. Jim Gordon, March 22, 2021

    I understand Dr Jongman’s concerns on the early release of the scientific findings on the freeze branding. Yes, wait till you have finished your findings. But AWEX needs to wait as well, on their decisions. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I ask you, how do we find out what is going on unless Sheep Central tells us?
    My frustrations come from AWEX crucifying the non-mulesers by putting us in bed with the freeze branders. How can the trade have any confidence in AWEX? If AWEX wants our input, give us all the information, first, no smoke nor mirrors, just the truth.
    Dr Steinfort, I have absolutely no problem with growers using your apparatus to remove skin wrinkle from the breech of their sheep. But I really object that AWEX has allowed breech-modified wool to be boxed with non-mulesed wool. This is extremely unfair and just kills all the hard work I have done breeding the right sheep to supply the market with what they desire — non-mulesed wool — then to have the freeze branders piggyback into my space without the breeding effort. It stinks.
    AWEX, tell the truth with integrity, identity mulesed wool, freeze-branded wool, non-mulesed wool and get some respect back from the trade. You won’t get many more chances. Growers are drifting to other organisations already.

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