MULESING IN NEW ZEALAND
If you've never heard of the word ‘mulesing' (pronounced mule-zing) you can be forgiven. Most New Zealanders are blissfully unaware of what can only be described as the most barbaric and vicious practice carried out in the New Zealand farm industry today.
Mulesing is the surgical mutilation, without the use of anaesthetic, of merino sheep. Skin from the animal's tail area is sliced away with hand shears, leaving a bleeding, gaping wound. The purpose of mulesing is to create a large area of scar tissue devoid of wool. This keeps the rear end of the sheep cleaner and therefore reduces the likelihood of fly strike.
Fly strike is a serious health issue for sheep and a costly problem for farmers. Merino sheep have wrinkly skin and their many skin folds offer ideal conditions for blowflies to lay their eggs. Once hatched, the maggots start devouring the sheep alive, causing serious injury and if left untreated, death.
NEW ZEALAND MERINO INDUSTRY
New Zealand has a flock of around two million merino sheep. Around half used to be mulesed but the Merino industry has adopted a voluntary ban on the practice since the end of 2010. SAFE understands however that a number of farmers have decided to ignore this ban and will continue using this barbaric practice. Farmers who do not mules use a variety of conventional practices to manage fly strike. Provided merino sheep are well monitored, standard husbandry methods make mulesing unnecessary.
LEAVING OPEN WOUNDS
SAFE director Hans Kriek has witnessed firsthand dozens of freshly mulesed sheep with open bleeding wounds.
"To see so many animals with bloody bottoms, walking slowly and painfully through beautiful green pasture, is a surreal experience," says Hans. "It is hard to believe that farmers can get away with this torture. If you were to mutilate a dog like this you would be prosecuted."
In Australia, over 20 million sheep are mulesed each year. The wool industry has been thrown into turmoil after American-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched a hard-hitting attack on the practice. PETA successfully convinced a number of major international retailers to not buy Australian wool in protest against mulesing and live sheep exports. PETA's action has divided the industry with some agreeing to phase out the harsh practice, and others refusing to give in and taking legal action against PETA.
INDUSTRY UNDER PRESSUREIn New Zealand, the wool industry has taken notice of the Australian situation and introduced a voluntary ban in 2010. Not all farmers support the ban, and therefore the practice has not stopped all together. The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) has failed to ban mulesing in the Code for Painful Husbandry practices and mulesing is therefore still a legal practice. "SAFE wants mulesing banned by law, not by a voluntary ban and will continue to call for a definitive ban on this horrendous practice," says Hans.
In the media
Weekly Times (Aus) Coles cautious on mulesing
The Conservation How the wool industry has undercut itself on mulesing
Vege Star Pamela Anderson Minus Mulesing: Air New Zealand Fashion Week
ODT NZ avoids boycott by dropping mulesing
The Press Breeding sheep to avoid mulesing
NZ Farmers Weekly NZ Merino deal dragged into mulesing mess
Did you know?
• Sheep possess a strong sense of individuality and can remember the faces of at least 10 people and 50 other sheep for over two years.
• Sheep mourn absent individuals and feel emotions such as jealousy, love and loss.
• Sheep have evolved to avoid expressing signs of their pain so as not to attract predators.
• Lambs recognise their own mother by smell, hearing and sight, and form close emotional bonds.
• Lambs band together to play, explore and forage. Their joyful jumping and chasing activities help them to develop the necessary skills to evade predators.
• New Zealand sheep population is an estimated 39 million (includes 2 million merino).
Warning: Highly graphic