Sheep welfare

Australia has a proud record of achievement in sheep welfare innovation and adoption of new technologies and has laws and regulations that create a framework for the industry to uphold as a benchmark of animal welfare.

The industry and our governments are committed to continuously improving animal welfare techniques and refining standards.

Standards of animal welfare

While producers are held accountable for their animals’ welfare, there are also national and state frameworks of welfare that are informed by industry-agreed Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines. These underpin access to domestic and overseas markets and reinforce Australia’s commitment to advancing meaningful and effective animal welfare outcomes.

The welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep specify the legal standards of management and husbandry required to protect and maintain the welfare of sheep in Australia. They apply to all those responsible for the care and management of sheep, cover various welfare requirements in relation to: feed and water; risk management in extreme weather, natural disasters, disease, injury and predation; facilities and equipment; handling, management and husbandry; breeding management; and humane killing.

The Australian wool industry demonstrates its ongoing commitment to animal welfare through their policy and advocacy efforts led by WoolProducers Australia, the national wool industry representative body.

Assurance and regulation

Supporting the implementation of Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines, Australia’s sheep, cattle and goat industries have implemented a national Livestock Production Assurance program.

In Australia, animal welfare legislation is enforced by state and territory governments in partnership with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and other authorised agencies.

Each state and territory has legislation that mandates and enforces animal welfare standards, as well as the prevention of cruelty to animals and personal accountability for animal welfare, including sheep producers.

Breech fly strike and mulesing

The practice of mulesing was invented more than 90 years ago to provide Merino sheep with lifetime protection against breech flystrike.

Flystrike is caused by fly larvae (maggots) being laid on the breech area of sheep and infesting and feeding on tissue. Left untreated, breech flystrike typically results in a slow, painful death to the animal.

Mulesing has proven remarkably effective as a preventative measure, because it involves one-time surgical removal of wool-bearing skin on either side of the breech of lambs, greatly reducing flystrike of the breech. Many supply chain partners have expressed a preference, or even a requirement for wool that is non-mulesed. Australian woolgrowers have invested heavily in development of alternative procedures to mulesing, however, to date no single universally accepted alternative has been developed, primarily due to the variable nature of climate and production systems present throughout Australian wool production areas.

AWI has developed a Flystrike Extension Program to support woolgrowers in improving the lifetime welfare of their sheep, reducing their reliance on mulesing and crutching, optimising chemical use and increasing whole farm profitability through the provision of practical information and tools and access to accredited advisor support. 

The National Wool Declaration has allowed wool growers to declare their mulesing status since 2008 which is now internationally recognised and widely used. 

Innovation in pain relief

In response to technological innovations and evolving consumer expectations, Australia has positioned itself as a world leader and innovator in the development and implementation of pain relief products for livestock. Examples of such innovations include:

  • Tri-Solfen® – the first topical anaesthetic and antiseptic product of its kind to be developed for post-procedure pain relief to surgical wounds in lambs. Tri-Solfen® has become widely adopted across the Australian sheep industry.
  • Buccalgesic OTM® and Butec OTM® – an innovative analgesic and anti-inflammatory product, delivered as a gel into the mouths of treated sheep and rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Developed with support from MLA and Commonwealth funding.
  • Numnuts® – a practical and user-friendly method for alleviating the pain suffered when lambs go through elastrator ring-based castration and tail-docking procedures, developed in collaboration with the Australian Wool Innovation, CSIRO and Meat & Livestock Australia.

A 2022 On-Farm Insights Report of the Sheep Sustainability Framework found that 92% of merino producers use pain relief when mulesing. WoolProducers Australia policy calls for state and territory governments to mandate pain relief when mulesing throughout Australia – something that has already been adopted into legislation in Victoria and Tasmania.