Stock Handling & Animal Welfare

Victorian mulesing contractors advised to give and bill pain relief

Terry Sim, July 10, 2020

Hamilton veterinarian Dr

VICTORIAN mulesing contractors have been advised to carry the pain relief product Tri-Solfen for use if producers don’t supply it.

From July 1 this year, under new Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act regulations, mulesing contractors and sheep producers could face fines if sheep were mulesed without using an approved pain relief product.

During a Victorian Farmers Federation Stock Sense webinar on pain relief options for sheep and cattle last night, a mulesing contractor named John asked Hamilton veterinarian Dr Andrew Whale what contractors should do if a producer did not supply pain relief products.

Dr Whale said sheep could now not be mulesed in Victoria without pain relief.

“Now you can’t just do it (mules), there is a requirement there for pain relief to be applied.

“I think what you need to do is have Tri-Solfen,” he said.

“You’ve got to make a decision are you going to do it, or are you going to leave the place and say look, you need to be more organised,” he said.

“Potentially, I guess the way to get around is for you to have Tri-Solfen on hand and you can treat animals with Tri-Solfen and you can on bill that to clients.

“That way you are able to keep your job functioning and you are doing everything appropriately.”

During the webinar, Dr Whale reviewed the drugs available for pain relief for sheep procedures such as mulesing and lamb marking.  He said two classes of pain relief drugs were available to sheep producers. These were the local anaesthetics — Tri-Solfen and Numocaine/Numnuts – for good short-term pain relief, and the longer-acting systemic anti-inflammatories — Buccalgesic or Metacam — whose active ingredient is meloxicam. He said the anti-inflammatories Buccalgesic and Metacam cannot be administered together because their common active ingredient could cause damage from overdosing.

But he said the ‘gold standard’ would be to use one of each of the local anaesthetics and a systemic anti-inflammatory, but if appropriately selected, a single pain relief method can be used.

Dr Whale said Tri-Solfen is the only approved mulesing pain relief product contractors can carry with them in their vehicles.

“As a contractor and not the owner, you can’t be holding onto the other drugs ready to use at your convenience.”

He said it was handy to have Tri-Solfen available over the counter, but producers wanting to provide ‘gold standard’ pain relief would need to have veterinary approval to also supply the systemic anti-inflammatory drugs for contractor use.

“It really is a case where you need to be on the phone a few days out and make sure that that it is all going to be fine and there are no other requirements with the vet clinic.

“If you are some distance from a vet clinic, do it when lambing starts and give yourself six weeks for them to make sure that they have ticked their boxes.”

Dr Whale said Buccalgesic and Metacam were S4 products, which meant producers needed a relationship with a veterinarian for them to be prescribed. The vet would need to have had physical contact with the animals and know how they are managed, and establish a therapeutic need for the drug.

He outlined trials showing the benefits of using Buccalgesic, Metacam and Numnuts in the various lamb marking/mulesing procedures.

Dr Whale said more people were using Metacam and Buccalgesic, and in particular there had been a big growth in Numocaine/Numnuts sales through his Livestock Logic practice.

“We would have already sold probably five times more than what we had sold last year.”

The veterinarian said Tri-Solfen was a good product for mulesing and for surgical castration and tail removal, but not for ring use, and there is a lack of evidence to suggest that it is highly effective when using a gas knife on tails.

Weight gain benefit, ring versus hot knife?

Dr Whale said there is no evidence of a weight gain benefit from using pain relief at lamb marking and mulesing. He did not recommend producers use a ring on tails rather than a hot knife, and said there was insufficient evidence to show which method — either using a ring or a gas knife to remove tails – involved the least pain.

“I think it is something we really need to look at – what are all the different treatments we can do with the best pain relief options and what gives the best result for the animal?

“I think about the public perception of a ring being applied versus a hot knife and I think the ring is probably an easier sell to the public,” he said.

He suggested use of a hot knife is probably less painful for an animal than using a ring without pain relief, because of the significant pain associated with blood circulation to the tail being stopped without local anaesthetic.

“I’m not recommending one or the other because we don’t have the data to say that one is a lot better than the other.

“What I am recommending is when putting a ring on that we really consider using Numocaine (Numnuts) and if we are doing a hot knife that we consider using a product like Buccalgesic or Metacam to deal with the post-surgery pain.”

He said Metacam “without a doubt” should be applied 15-20 minutes before mulesing lambs in a cradle to get maximum benefit. But he loved the idea of using Tri-Solfen to numb the mulesing wound and applying Metacam in the cradle to act as the immediate pain relief wore off 4-6 hours later, reducing the chance of mismothering.

On whether there was a need for a true pre-operative acting product for mulesing to remove the pain of the mulesing shears, Dr Whale said Tri-Solfen is very fast-acting and “provides a really good result.”

“Yes, we would love there to be zero pain, but I actually think what we’ve got is a very very good solution and I’m really comfortable with it as a sheep producer and as a vet.

“Yes, it could be better, but it’s a pretty damn good combination when you provide Metacam or Buccalgesic in combination with Tri-Solfen instantly.”

Lamb tail length reminder

Dr Whale also reminded producers to dock tails to the recommended length, leaving at least one free palpable joint, but ideally docking to the tip of the vulva.

“There are lot of tails that are being cut too short.”

Correct tail length would reduce the occurrence of vaginal prolapses, he said.

“As a vet, we get a lot of phone calls about sheep with vaginal prolapses and the most common thing we see is that their tails have been cut too short.

“It’s $400 for a crossbred ewe at the moment and we don’t want to be losing one or two percent of them due to vaginal prolapses that could be been prevented through better lamb-marking technique.”

Click here to view Dr Whale’s webinar slides.

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