The University of Western Australia’s Farm Ridgefield is helping blaze the trail to end the practice of mulesing sheep.
The farm is one of six Meat & Livestock Australia Producer Demonstration Sites for a four-year project run by UWA alumni Georgia Reid-Smith and Ed Riggall of AgPro Management.
UWA Emeritus Professor Graeme Martin said the project would demonstrate the impact of shifting to non-mules enterprises – on management and measures of production – to more than 100 producers and the wider industry.
“At each site, we will measure weaner weight, wool value, animal price, and husbandry costs, thus enabling a benefit-cost assessment of the financial outcome compared to traditional management, while also capturing qualitative data to analyse the social impact and changes required to management,” Ms Reid-Smith said.
“Recognising the inevitability of the technique being banned, UWA Farm Ridgefield stopped mulesing in 2010,” Professor Martin said.
“We now have 10 years’ experience in managing non-mulesed Merino sheep, placing us in a good position to discuss the issues with producers.”
Professor Martin said the PDS project would address the mulesing-related problems that cost Merino-based industries about $600 million per year.
UWA Farm Ridgefield is also collaborating with the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development to investigate the processes that sheep use to resist worm infection, forages that combat worm development in the gut, and odours produced by sheep that attract blowflies.
Professor Martin cautioned that the industry needed to urgently stop mulesing.
“This is challenging because it requires significant changes in management, including worm control, the timing of shearing and crutching, flock monitoring, pasture management and rotation, and strategies for the use of drenches and insecticides,” he said.
“Many producers who have stopped mulesing have been successful, but it is fair to say that many others failed to sustain the change because the management issues were too difficult to adopt.
“Moreover, there were no support networks to help the transition. Among producers, there is a mix of success stories and failures.”
Professor Martin said the project would show producers how a non-mulesed system worked, and equip them with the tools, skills and confidence to try adopt changes in management.
“The project does not aim to force change but rather to show producers what the system looks like so they can decide for themselves,” he said.