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Effects of mulesing and alternative procedures to mulesing on the behaviour and physiology of lambs

By P. H. Hemsworth, J. L. Barnett, G. M. Karlen, A. D. Fisher, K. L. Butler, N. A. Arnold

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Mulesing involves the surgical removal of skin adjacent to the perineum and tail without anaesthesia or analgesia in lambs. This procedure was developed to reduce the risk of flystrike (cutaneous myiasis) around the perineum. Alternative interventions to mulesing have historically been insufficient to manage outbreaks of breech strike and avoid large losses of animals and the associated animal suffering. Over 4 weeks, we used behavioural, physiological, health and fitness variables to evaluate the welfare implications of two alternative procedures to surgical mulesing that enlarge and stretch the perineum: an intradermal injection of sodium lauryl sulphate, an anionic surfactant that causes necrosis by denaturing skin proteins, and an application of plastic clips that induce ischaemic necrosis of enclamped skin. Our results confirm the adverse effects of mulesing and indicate that the duration of these effects is longer than previously reported. In comparison to lambs in the Control treatment, higher cortisol (P<0.01) and haptoglobin (P<0.001) concentrations were still evident at 1 and 2 weeks after treatment, respectively in the lambs that were mulesed. In addition marked disruptions in feeding (P<0.01) and lying (P<0.05) behaviour up to 2 weeks and gait (P<0.05) and growth (P<0.01) for up to about 3 weeks after mulesing were recorded. Both alternative procedures, and the Clip treatment in particular, substantially improved welfare compared to mulesing. In contrast to lambs in the mulesing treatment, lambs in the Intradermal treatment and particularly the Clip treatment generally responded in a similar manner to those in the Control treatment for many of the variables. The main differences were in physiology: cortisol concentrations were higher (P<0.05) at 15 and 120 min after treatment in lambs with clips than the control treatment, while lambs in the Intradermal treatment had higher (P<0.05) cortisol concentrations at 15 and 120 min and at Day 2, than those in the Control treatment. Haptoglobin concentrations were higher (P<0.05) in the two alternative treatments on Days 3-7 and the neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio was higher (P<0.01) in the Intradermal treatment on Day 2. The findings of this experiment support previous research that shows surgical mulesing adversely affects the welfare of lambs, albeit for a longer duration. Furthermore, in comparison to surgical mulesing, both alternative procedures, and in particular the Clip treatment, substantially reduced the adverse effects on lamb welfare, based on similar responses to the Control treatment.

Date 2009
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 117
Issue 1/2
Pages 20-27
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.007
Language English
Author Address Animal Welfare Science Centre, The University of Melbourne, Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, Parkville, 3010 Victoria, Australia.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Adverse effects
  2. Adverse reactions
  3. Alternative methods
  4. Analgesia
  5. Anesthesia
  6. Animal behavior
  7. Animal diseases
  8. Animal nutrition
  9. Animal physiology
  10. Animal welfare
  11. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  12. Blood
  13. Cortisol
  14. Effect
  15. Feeding
  16. Fitness
  17. Gait
  18. Health
  19. History
  20. Hydrocortisone
  21. Interventions
  22. Ischemia
  23. Lambs
  24. Mammals
  25. myocardial ischaemia
  26. necrosis
  27. outbreaks
  28. pain relief
  29. parasitic infestations
  30. perineum
  31. physiology
  32. Ruminants
  33. Sheep
  34. sulfate
  35. surgery
  36. therapeutics
  37. therapy
  38. Wool producing animals