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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

Managing non- mulesing – A Producer Perspective

Posted by Bestprac on Aug 06 2010

by Liz Guerin

As the deadline for the cessation of mulesing passes and pressure to comply increases, many farmers are still claiming that ceasing mulesing is too difficult or costly for their business. The experiences of Bestprac Project Advisory Chairman, Stuart Mitchell, have been just the opposite.
MANAGING WELL: Queensland farmer and Bestprac Advisory Chairman, Stuart Mitchell, says that flock management since ceasing mulesing has not been difficult. Also significant financial benefits can be achieved.
Stuart & Ba Mitchell operate a 16 000 hectare property situated at Bollon, 600km west of Brisbane. Running approximately 10 000 sheep, they ceased mulesing two years ago.

“Initially we took the attitude that we’d just stop doing it and we’ll manage it” he said. “We literally woke up one morning and said ‘right, we’re not mulesing anymore’ and so far it hasn’t been difficult.”

Stuart says that when the mulesing controversy started six years ago, time of shearing was changed from autumn to spring to ensure their sheep had no wool on them when the most flies were around.

“Since ceasing mulesing, lamb marking time is a lot more pleasant; we haven’t increased crutching frequency and despite receiving 800mm of rain since December 2009 (double annual rainfall), we have had absolutely nil breach strike.”

Aside from the 2010 mulesing deadline, Stuart says that there are substantial financial incentives to not mules.

The Mitchell’s are currently undertaking an Australian Land Management Certification (an ISO 1400 Environmental Management Standard) which once complete, will qualify them for premiums for their wool.

“We realised that we had to stop mulesing anyway, but with a premium of 3% if sheep are unmulesed, an additional 3% if the property has ceased mulesing, and a further 3% if the wool has low chemical residues, there is a fair incentive there” said Stuart.

“What we are trying to do now is get our wool to qualify for the advantage pool. And if we can qualify, we get the 6%, that’s a no-brainer, and if we can deliver low chemical residue wool, it’s an extra 3%.”

Stuart explained that wool goes into a pool, with 80% of the spot price being paid immediately and at the end of the 12 month period, a distribution from the pool is paid in addition to unmulesed, ceased mulesing and low chemical residue premiums.

“If the wool buying company (Lempriere Fox and Lillie) have a good year trading wool, the premium could be higher than the 9%, (providing the three criteria are satisfied), dependant on the pool distribution.”

Stuart admits that he is regularly questioned on his best advice for those thinking about ceasing mulesing themselves.

“The first thing I would encourage people to do, is to carefully examine options other than where you traditionally buy your rams. Look for genetics that contribute to reducing body wrinkle without compromising high performance from the other criteria.”

The Mitchell’s made a radical change in sourcing rams from a traditional merino type to a very plain bodied type. The reason being, they found a local plain bodied ram source with high performance in central tests for fleece weight and micron.

GENETICS: Selecting plain bodied rams with good performance in key criteria such as fleece weight and micron can assist.“We found a good ram source locally, so they’re also suited to our conditions” he said. “The rams we’re using now have not got a wrinkle on them, they actually look like a cross bred – and they are still achieving good fleece weights and micron.”
The second thing that Stuart would advise is to sift through the range of tools available as alternatives to mulesing.

“We have been using a Tpari knife which rolls and strips the butt of the tail so that it is bare.”

“A lot of people are waiting for someone like AWI to provide a solution for them” he said. “The AWI and The Sheep CRC have invested approximately $25 million into researching and developing alternatives and they currently have a lot of tools that people can apply to their properties now. Producers need to sift through those tools and find the one that best suits them and their business.” (see web links at conclusion of article)

Stuart says that since ceasing mulesing his management practices haven’t changed, there have been no additional labour requirements or costs involved, and that those people who say it is too hard to cease mulesing, really don’t want to do it.

“There is no such thing as a silver bullet and I feel that a lot of people are waiting for the answer to be provided for them. I think you just have to take the attitude with any change that you will manage it” he said. “I think producers need to have a look at their business and consider whether they still want to mules, and take the risk of getting punished in the market or do we want to move on.”

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Last changed: Feb 07 2012

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