A polypropylene clip could allow Australian woolgrowers to phase out a controversial sheep farming practice.
The Australian wool industry has pledged to end mulesing, the practice of cutting skin from lambs' backsides to stop blowfly strike, by 2010. Mulesing has been the subject of animal activist campaigns in the U.S. and Europe to boycott the Australian wool industry.
Sydney-based growers' organization Australian Wool Innovation Ltd. has taken legal action against activist organizations in a bid to recoup losses allegedly incurred through the boycott.
Jules Dorrian, AWI blowfly control project manager, said blowfly strike, which occurs when blowflies lay eggs in soiled wool around sheep's backsides, is more cruel than mulesing. After the maggots hatch, they burrow into the sheep's flesh and can kill them.
Dorrian said the plastic clips were attached to the skin surrounding areas removed by conventional mulesing, stopping blood flow to the skin. The skin died within 24 hours and the clips and skin eventually fell off or could be removed.
Dorrian said AWI would expand a current trial of the PP clips and clips made from biodegradable plastic on Merino sheep in August and September.
It would be up to AWI's commercial partner, whom Dorrian would not name, to decide when the clips would be available for sale, but a controlled commercial release was expected this year, Dorrian said.
Commercial opportunities are large in other sheep farming nations, including New Zealand and South Africa. “Anything that reduces sag and staining on wool has commercial potential. If the product can also save sheep's lives, farmers will welcome it,” Dorrian said.
Two AWI directors and South Australian (S.A.) woolgrowers, Ian McLachlan and Chris Abell, and S.A. sheep veterinarian Jack Coffey developed the idea for a clip.
McLachlan and Abell built a wood prototype then donated the intellectual property to AWI, which began trialing PP clips on 86 woolgrowers' properties last year.