Imagine a sheep: fluffy, soft and cute. We all have positive associations with these animals, be it from real encounters or from the «bedtime stories» of our childhood. So how can you not love sheep?
Unfortunately, the whole thing also has a dark side that you probably don’t know: In order to make wool production even more lucrative, many sheep are bred today so that they grow excess skin.
With this excess skin also come skin folds. Moisture and excrement often collect in these folds in the sheep, especially in the area of their hindquarters. This in turn provides the ideal breeding ground for the maggots of the blowfly. If a sheep is infected by these, it has the so-called fly maggot eating disease, which can lead to serious health problems and even death of the animal.
Since this maggot infestation is a major problem in Australia in particular, many producers of merino wool in Australia resort to what is known as mulesing, an extremely painful mutilation of the animals. During this procedure, strips of skin are cut off the lambs’ buttocks with sharp scissors and often without any anesthesia.
Sheep have feelings and they experience pain, stress and fear during this mulesing. They also remember the faces of the people they hurt – we know they avoid those people for up to five weeks.
Unfortunately, this mutilation does not even completely prevent fly maggot feeding disease, as the maggots sometimes find nesting sites in other skin folds. Although the farmers use this technique to protect the animals from the parasites, good will alone is not enough here. It is imperative to end the breeding and use of unsuitable breeds of sheep. Instead, sheep should be used that are as wrinkle-free as possible and therefore not as susceptible to the fly maggot feeding disease.
Mulesing should no longer occur in the production of Merino wool in the future: It’s cruel and there are better alternatives.