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PETA and Sheep Mulesing

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The evolution of the wool industry is little considered when the subject of mulesing is raised.  Over thousands of years, the merino breed of sheep was bred through Spain and in a number of other regions on the planet, before it was brought to New South Wales by John Macarthur at the start of the 1800s.  Merino sheep grew well and bred well in our temperate climate and when the route over the mountains enabled them to be taken to the now famous wool growing areas of inland NSW, their numbers grew exponentially, to over 150,000,000 by the mid 20th century.

However, genetics as a science was in its infancy at this time.  Sheep were bred by graziers according to the results partly as measured by what went into the wool clip and partly by how much trouble it took to produce it.  Breeding developed along two lines, one for conformation of the animals, and one for the quality of the fleece.

There is no disputing the quality of the fleece; we have the finest and best quality fine wool on the planet in Australia.  However, little credence has been given to the effort that has gone into the conformation of the animal.  Where sheep at the turn of the 20th century were very wrinkled and had extremely high grease content due to the density, by the end of the century, even with little assistance from the fledgling scientific discipline of genetic engineering, sheep had become remarkably less wrinkled and wool significantly less greasy.  When genetic engineering and science came online to assist in the process, rapid evolution of the species began to occur.  Within a decade, this evolution will result in sheep that have little or no wrinkle at all, resulting in cleaner fleeces, and faster and easier shearing. 

The problem with wrinkled sheep is that the hind leg wrinkles trap moisture from urine and faeces, which become the target for Lucilius Caprena, the blowfly.  The sheep so affected, unless treated quickly, will die a miserable death from the poisons of the infestation of maggots in the wounds, before the maggots then consume the whole carcase.

One solution is the removal of a single strip of skin from the hind legs of the sheep at the age of around 6 weeks, as lambs, when the animals are growing the fastest.  This is a little like face lift surgery in humans, except done without anaesthetic.  However, subjective measurement of the pain levels experienced by the animals suggests that the pain experience in sheep is vastly different to that in humans.  The sheep are grazing normally within 20 minutes and healed over within days.  This operation is called “Mulesing”.

All the while, graziers were also selecting sheep with less and less natural wrinkle to breed from, changing the conformation of the sheep according to Gregor Mendels Laws of Genetics, the best solutions they had for at least the first three quarters of the 20th century.  They were making progress, but had to work from one generation to the next, waiting for the generations to breed out the changes in the strains.

However, an animal rights group, PETA has decided that this is not enough, and has decided to boycott Australian wool because of the perceived cruelty of the mulesing operation.  Despite being told of the progress of the genetic engineering work and the fact that within a decade there will be no more mulesing, and that many sheep have reached that state already, their wrinkles have been bred out.  They have been told that it takes a while to breed out another 50,000,000 sheep, however, they still insist on their boycotts, at great expense to the wool industry.

If any other body from within Australia caused such a financial impost on another body, for example, a trade union, a university or a specific business, they would be liable for damages and loss caused to the business.  There is no reason why the crime cannot be sheeted home to the perpetrators here either, and the body sued out of existence.

Whilst it may have had a legitimate role initially, being founded with the greatest of intentions, the concept has obviously over matured and gone to waste.  There are numerous legitimate animal welfare causes worth fighting for.  If it cannot find one of them and leave the welfare of thousands of graziers in the hands of scientists to continue with the solution to what is a problem recognised by people within the industry first, then it no longer has a legitimate value.

PETA is an organization with a $30,000,000 annual income from donations and governmental funding.  The name stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  However, its own records show that for over 90% of the animals it takes into its “care” annually, euthanasia is the final result, rather than rehousing.  It would seem hypocritical for it to take the stand it has over an operation performed for humane reasons and outcomes.

PETA needs to be sued for any and all damages caused by the boycotts promoted and organised by them.  The proceeds should be awarded to the research and development funding of the industry to continue the work in this field.  This was attempted recently by AWI, Australian Wool Innovation, but apparently largely unsupported by the Federal Government.  It’s about time the Australian Government finally got behind the industry that established Australia on the world scene as a leader in the export earnings for many years, and stamped our mark on the world as an independent nation.


LEARN THE TRUTH!  Put PETA into Google and read about the real activities of this organization that takes multi millions of your dollars and doesn’t put it all where it promises.

Research Merino sheep and mulesing; look at the amazing advances made in this area in the last two decades with breeding and genetics.

Talk to sheep graziers who are involved, as well as animal libbers that aren’t.

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