An increasing number of Australian woolgrowers are adopting pain relief options for lamb marking.
On-farm adoption of analgesic and anaesthetic options has been rapid, according to Australian Wool Innovation.
Australian woolgrowers are world leaders in adopting these treatments for husbandry procedures.
The local anaesthetic,Tri-Solfen, was first registered in 2007, while the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) Metacam and Buccalgesic were registered in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Numnuts, a handheld device that delivers a local anaesthetic (NumOcaine) for ring castration and tail docking by rings, was launched in 2019.
Growers Audrey Bird of Western Australia and Jodie Green of NSW say they believe whole-heartedly in the benefits of effective and practical anaesthetic and analgesic treatments during lamb marking.
For Jodie and Andrew Green at Boree Creek in NSW's Riverina , the incorporation of local anaesthetic into their lamb marking procedure, through the Numnuts device, is the next step in managing the health and wellbeing of offspring from their 6500 ewe flock.
"Our operation is focused on breeding sheep that truly suit their environment; that is the most responsible thing to do," Ms Green said.
"Our sheep have soft, thin skin, they repel water and dust and thrive in the climate we expect them to live in.
"We ceased mulesing during 2006, but only introduced an anaesthetic several years ago," she said.
"We stopped using the hot iron about eight years ago and now use an elastrator for tails and testicles, with the addition of a local anaesthetic to minimise stress during and after the process."
According to Ms Green, the local anaesthetic delivered through the handheld Numnuts device provides sufficient relief to allow the marked lambs to mother up and become settled back in their paddocks by the time the impact of the analgesia wears off.
"If you miss a lamb with the device at the end of a batch of anaesthetic, you notice the difference," she said.
"The untreated lamb will come out of the cradle and sulk while the treated lambs land on the ground and head out to the ewes."
Jodie and Andrew believe the cost of 76 cents per ewe lamb and $1.50 per ram lamb is more than worthwhile.
They calculate the extra time in using the marking device is about two seconds per animal.
"You need to be committed to maximising animal welfare and focus less on the cost," Ms Green said.
"It's easy to maintain our commitment when our lambs mother up immediately and we see no check in lamb growth after marking, which is extraordinary."
At Wickepin, south-east of Perth, Audrey Bird is running a 1700 head self-replacing Merino flock as part of a 4300ha mixed farming operation.
"Sheep are valuable and it is worth ensuring you do the best you can do," Ms Bird said.
"Anything you can do to minimise the animal set-backs is well worth pursuing."
She has been using Tri-Solfen for the mulesing operation since it was first available and combines this with Buccalgesic and NumOcaine to optimise pain management and lamb recovery at marking.
She believes the use of anaesthetics (like Tri-Solfen and NumOcaine) and analgesics (such as Buccalgesic) is a "no brainer".
"I got to know about Buccalgesic through my niece, who is a vet," she said.
"I tried that and thought it was relatively cheap for the benefits it gave our business. It is long acting and even after it's worn off, the impact of lower stress during marking appears to have benefits for several days afterwards."
Ms Bird followed the development of the Numnuts system and was one of the first producers in WA to use it, believing it has its own special niche.
Ms Bird also said the lambs mother up immediately out of the cradle and run out of the yards better.
She is in the process of phasing out mulesing through a dedicated breeding objective.
"As an industry, we need to look at consumer preferences when it comes to managing our animals - look at the benefits rather than the hurdles."
For further information and resources about using analgesia and anaesthesia when lamb marking, visit www.wool.com/aa.
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