All eyes will be on Victoria this week as the state's laws change to mandate the use of pain relief when mulesing.
As of Wednesday July 1, Victorian producers will be required to administer a registered pain-relieving product if mulesing sheep, in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (POCTA) 2019.
Mulesing is the act of removing the strips of wool-bearing skin from around the breech (buttocks) of a sheep to prevent flystrike, a parasitic infection.
In a recent Agriculture Victoria webinar, The University of Melbourne's Mackinnon Project senior consultant John Webb Ware said evidence suggested many producers across the country were headed towards ceasing mulesing, so they needed to be aware of how this affected the management of their flock.
"Mulesing has steadily declined since 2008, and there's been a change in premiums and discounts," Dr Webb Ware said.
"Over the last 10 years, the average for all wool types is about a 2 per cent premium on non-mulesed wool, and bigger premiums have occurred for finer wool."
He said if you were thinking about transitioning to a non-mulesed flock, there were a lot of things to consider, including your climate, your breed of sheep and your existing labour resources and event timing.
"I have no doubt that the biggest impact and management issues will be on flocks in higher rainfall areas where there's more moisture and more breech strike due to worms and dags," he said.
"In a lot of prime lambs, it can be pretty easy but there's a big variation in terms of management in Merinos.
"In larger flocks it can add an extra level of complexity in terms of supervision of management."
But he said these issues were all manageable.
"It is important to talk about genetic progress and for a start it is slow but it is permanent and accumulative," he said.
"Over a period of time you can make a meaningful difference to the breech of your sheep."
Dr Webb Ware said one way to manage the transition was to re-assess your shearing timeline.
"When you're looking at when to shear there are a whole plethora of things to think about - staple strength management, when you're turning off stock, grass seed and vegetable matter management, dag management and so on - but reduction of blowfly risk is a consideration that needs to go way up the pecking order," he said.
"Typically late spring and early summer is ideal for fly control but also the other factor with a non-mulesed flock is trying to minimise the likelihood of additional crutching.
"The other thing with crutching is having to crutch sheep that have wet dags is a lot more difficult than if they're dry."
But he stressed there was no one size fits all approach and he encouraged producers to do their own research.
"One tool which is available to look at is FlyBoss, which helps you assess the risk associated with different shearing times depending on your flock and climate," he said.
He said another additional cost could be extra jetting.
"It's likely an extra jetting will be required and possibly two extras in some cases," he said.
Chemical resistance with blowflies was also beginning to emerge.
"The reality is there does seem to be a reduction in the protection period of products, so we need to be mindful of that moving forward," he said.
"It's only early days and there's going to be a lot more discussion around this."
He also pointed out that there were options other than mulesing to breech modification available.
"Sheep freeze branding with liquid nitrogen is in an early commercialisation phase, and there will be some independent animal welfare studies done on it in winter," he said.
Dr Webb Ware acknowledged that there were additional costs associated with switching to a non-mulesed operation, and to illustrate the overall cost this would have, brought up a case study of a 8100 dry sheep equivalent flock.
"Their initial management was shearing in February, and May for weaners, crutching in December, and breech jetting in October," he said.
"In a post-mulesing scenario, there are new additions to the management calendar, including breech jetting in March, and additional crutching in July."
Additional costs included shearing which would increase by $2306, crutching by $11,500, chemicals by $970 and loss of wool through cutching and dags by $6000.
Premiums and savings on mulesing costs totaled about $7000, and in total, it meant an addition spending of $16,600 per year.
"Everybody should be thinking about how they can move forward with this in terms of managing their flock into the future," he said.