Failure to act brings risk to Australia's reputation

Lack of foresight on animal welfare a risk to Australian wool clip say industry leaders

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Producers of superfine Merino wool say they have paved the way for the industry to adopt a practice that is improving market demand for Australian product.

Producers of superfine Merino wool say they have paved the way for the industry to adopt a practice that is improving market demand for Australian product.

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Super fine wool producers and manufacturers are adapting to a changing market which is demanding non mulsed wool.

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Experience from the superfine sector of Australia's wool industry has shown producers can move away from the mulesing to prevent flystrike through management and genetics while reaping a financial benefit.

Not only is the outdated practice an animal welfare issue, it is a market roadblock to sustainable prices, say those who deal in markets other than China.

Budget brands, Target and Aldi, followed Italian topmaker Authentica in recently declaring their intention to purchase only non-mulesed wool.

Andrew Blanch, New England Wool, said recent events threw a spotlight on what the end consumer is now demanding.

"This is the sort of pressure everyone is under," he said. "Non-mulesed wool ticks the box on social responsibility. The next question is about supply."

Non-mulesed wool's ability to pay a premium of five to 10 per cent above the market should be incentive enough, while better wool securing contract prices brings eight to 12 per cent better.

Andrew Ross, from outdoor brand Bluey Merino - one of three Australian companies to declare its products free from the practice - said existing premiums for the right product would become the norm while mulesed wool would be discounted, which becomes a problem for producers who don't change.

Mr Ross said the failure of Australian Wool Innovation to embrace non-mulesed wool earlier was a complex issue that involved politics and egos that got in the way of the peak body being able to step into the issue, but he said it remained the best body to lead right now.

"We identified early that key markets for our woolen garments in Europe and North America were vocal about wanting product from non-mulesed sheep," he said.

Bluey Merino sources direct from farmers who also embrace traceability, with Mr Ross developing a block chain technology so consumers could learn about their supply chain. Hiding animal welfare issues was never an option.

"But we found growers who stopped mulesing, using genetics from plain bodied, easy-care, fertile animals that are naturally robust in accordance with their climate," he said. "We found a massive community of growers who don't mules who had been largely ostracised by the mainstream industry."

"Producers tell me they have too much rain to stop mulesing, but is that an excuse? In every climate region from the Midlands of Tasmania to the northern New England we have non-mulesing producers.

"We need an industry transformation and that is hard, but we need to get the science behind it.

"Smooth-bodied genetics and breeding philosophies must be embraced with the reward being a flock that is easy to look after and robust."

"We always have to come in from the consumers' perspective. We always ask 'who is your customer?'. It is the person who wears your product, swears by it and falls in love with it."

  • 50,000 reasons to tick the boxJock Menzies, Winterbourne NE, Armidale, was able to lock-in last year's terrific wool prices thanks to the fact his non-mulesed clip opened new market doors. The reward was an extra $50,000 in the bank. Here is what he had to say:
    As wool growers and farmers we understand the tight rope we walk between ethics and best practice and the sometimes threatening debate which it opens up by adopting the view that old practice is no longer acceptable.
    We find ourselves in the same place with mulesing of sheep.After doing trial work on a mulesing alternative, we decided to stop the practice in 2007 and dealt with some wet and wrinkles since.We have since run the sire evaluation for two years, introducing 25 different bloodlines. Some of theses did not acclimatise well to our local environment and were a challenge to look after. This was in part due to excessive wrinkles in the breach under the tail.We started culling lambs in the cradle at lamb marking and eventually the wrinkles were culled from the flock. It takes time, but we are getting results.We use insect growth regulator to help get us through the first 12 months, crutch twice when needed, worm control has to be kept up to prevent dags and with the development of an injection for barbers pole worm drenching is reduced.
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