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Beyond the Bale : Jun - Jul 08 Supplement
12 beyondthebale roadto2010supplement bymelissabranagh-mcConachy F ifth-generation woolgrower Geoff Fisken concedes he had mixed feelings after his 2200-hectare Lal Lal property became one of the first trialled under AWI’s breech and tail clip testing regime. The western Victorian grower, who runs 11,500 superfine Merinos at ‘Lal Lal Estate’, east of Ballarat, says the plastic clips achieved only 50 per cent efficacy in the trial’s first year in 2006. However, a decision to reserve judgment paid off, with 90 per cent of the lambs clipped in 2007 returning positive results. Mr Fisken attributes the major upturn to timing. “In 2006 we clipped 200 lambs at two weeks, whereas last year we waited until they weighed 10 kilograms,” he says. “We have always mulesed early because it is regarded as better animal husbandry, but with clipping you can physically grab more skin on bigger lambs.” Impressed with this performance, Mr Fisken is confident he will clip his entire drop this year, estimated at 4500 lambs. “Mulesing has traditionally been the better of two evils, when you consider the distress suffered by flyblown sheep, but clipping is a humane alternative. The lambs were uncomfortable for only 20 minutes.” Mr Fisken says the technique was particularly effective around the breech, leaving a bare, stretched area between the anus and vulva. However, he maintains that the tail clips did not work as well. “It was difficult to pull skin up either side of the tail and to observe whether the clips were in place, but I understand this is a development issue that will be addressed,” he says. “Overall I give the initiative the thumbs up.” Aside from their fundamental purpose to provide a stand-in for mulesing, Mr Fisken says the trials also revealed a correlation between clip use and increased bodyweight. “We detected no difference in bodyweight between clipped and unmulesed animals, which gives clipping a three-kilogram advantage over mulesing at weaning,” he says. “Extra condition equates with better growth and is particularly crucial if you are weaning lambs late in spring.” Mr Fisken believes that recent European protests have clarified the advantage of ceasing mulesing ahead of the phase-out. “It’s about minimising wool discounts,” he says. “We are conscious of applying best animal welfare practices Breech and tail clips offer multiple Benefits for woolgrowers Participants in the 2007 clipping trial were pleased to learn that the mulesing alternative delivers more than one benefit. Grower Geoff Fisken was among them and the mulesing operation is very graphic; it upsets customers and we have to be aware of the market and its concerns.” Confident that breeding developments will deliver fly-resistant sheep, Mr Fisken views the clips as an early measure that will eventually be superseded on most Australian properties. “It is challenging to find bare-breeched, tail- bare rams in superfine strains (18 micron or less), where the focus is predominantly on productivity. But I believe it will happen in four generations or, with gene technology, within six to eight years. “If we could eliminate flystrike risk through breeding we would be way in front, even if we accepted a loss in production.” ‘Lal Lal Estate’ is concurrently seeking out plainer-bodied rams, but while Mr Fisken acknowledges the stud industry’s view that this approach will compromise other quality breeding objectives, including wool cuts, he is adamant that leg and breech wool is of little value anyway. “Mulesing has allowed the industry to tolerate traits such as wrinkly skins that increase flystrike susceptibility. Previously, we haven’t applied selection pressure to eliminate this trait, but it will become important to score lambs based on bare Frontline contractors throw support behind clips MulesinG alternatives accreditedprofessionalmulesingcontractorswho coordinatedtheon-farmcomponentoftheaWI trialshaveunanimouslybackedthenewbreechand tailclips. thefourkey‘stewards’–robpowelland WarrenGodsonfromnsW,Jackbriscoefrom VictoriaandpeterJackafromsouthaustralia –clippedalmost30,000lambslastyearandlabelled Geelong-basedmulesingcontractorJackbriscoesayswoolgrowerswereparticularlyimpressed withtheamountofbareareathatwasachievedfromusingclips–andtheweight-gainadvantage.
Apr - May 08
Jun - July 08