Customers looking to buy non-mulesed wool are turning to Australia, according to Australian Wool Innovation genetics and animal welfare advocacy program manager Geoff Lindon, with more than 120,000 bales to be sold this season from flocks that have ceased mulesing or are non-mulesed.
Mr Lindon said Australia was the world’s largest exporter of non-mulesed wool but admitted there was still more progress to be made, as it accounted for less than 10 per cent of the total clip.
According to Australian Wool Exchange figures, an estimated 90,549 bales (testing 24.5 micron and finer) are expected to be sold this financial year from non-mulesed flocks, and another 30,468 bales from flocks that have declared to have ceased mulesing.
These volumes have been slowly increasing from 5pc non-mulesed in 2014-15.
Mr Lindon, who was a guest speaker at the SA Merino Sire Evaluation Trial field day on Friday at Keyneton Station, provided a summary of the key findings from interviews with 40 woolgrowing businesses that had moved to a non-mulesed enterprise.
He said they were motivated more by improving the lifetime welfare of their flocks than economics, but most agreed it was a profitable decision.
“The $2 to $3 a head increase was in extra animal husbandry but overwhelmingly the issue was the size of the restocker discount from nil to about 40pc, depending on where you are,” he said.
Mr Lindon said planning was key in moving to a non-mulesed business.
“You need to know your environment and your sheep type and how they interact – are you in a high worm zone, are you in a high dag zone, what is the level of wrinkle on your sheep?” he said.
They also needed to “rebalance” their calendar of operations, such as time of shearing, crutching and jetting, while most shortened their lambing period, he said.
Breeding sheep with low wrinkle and low dag scores was also critical and Mr Lindon commended medium wool flocks, typical of those in SA and WA, on their progress.
In the past 15 years, according to Sheep Genetics figures, medium woolgrowers have reduced their breech wrinkle in Australian Sheep Breeding Values from -0.2 to -0.7 and breech cover from 0 to -0.2.
It had been far more difficult for fine and superfine woolgrowers, who have chased increased wool cut, due to the lack of micron premiums. Their ASBV wrinkle scores were unchanged.
Mr Lindon also stressed the importance of woolgrowers filling out their National Wool Declaration with the market factoring in a “slight discount” for those that did not.
In 2014-15, 49pc of wool sold was not being declared but this has shifted to 33pc.
Growers embrace mulesing pain relief
The use of pain relief during mulesing has been one of the fastest adopted practices by woolgrowers in decades outside the mobile phone, according to Australian Wool Innovation’s Geoff Lindon.
In a decade since the drugs became available, Mr Lindon estimated close to 80 per cent of lambs were now being administered pain relief.
“Overwhelming you are sending a very strong message through to the supply chain that you care,” he said.
But Snowtown Merino breeder Andrew Michael, Leachim stud, said AWI needed to go further and push for pain relief during mulesing to become compulsory, and make welfare a top priority.
“And when you jump onto Sheep Genetics Australia’s website and look at those breech wrinkle animals and how well they perform for fleece weight, fat and muscle it is pretty disappointing we are only at 7pc non mulesed,” Mr Michael said.