How does Mulesing work?
Mulesing is a surgical procedure that is commonly used in the wool industry to prevent flystrike, which is a painful and sometimes fatal condition caused by blowflies laying their eggs on the skin of sheep. When the eggs hatch, the maggots feed on the sheep's skin, which can lead to infection, loss of wool, and in severe cases, death.
During mulesing, the skin around the sheep's tail and hindquarters is cut off with shears or scissors, without providing the sheep with any anesthesia or pain relief. The procedure is done to remove folds of skin and wrinkles that can trap moisture and fecal matter, creating an environment where blowflies can lay their eggs. The resulting wound is meant to heal quickly, leaving a smooth, scarred area that is less susceptible to flystrike.
Mulesing is a controversial practice because of its potential for causing pain and distress to the animals. As a result, some countries and retailers have moved away from the practice and have adopted alternative methods for preventing flystrike, such as breeding sheep with less wrinkled skin or using fly repellents.
Protecting the welfare of sheep
It's worth noting that not all wool is produced using the mulesing surgery, and there are certification programs like the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) and the ZQ Merino program that prohibit mulesing and require animal welfare standards to be met.
Mulesing is widely banned across Europe (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland), the New Zealand government and wool industry take a strong stance against the practice, and The New Zealand Merino Company has the "ZQ Merino" standard that prohibits mulesing. However, mulesing is still widely used in Australia, South Africa, and regionally used in various South American countries such as in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Peru.
Why are brands still using wool with mulesing?
Despite this controversy, wool produced with mulesing is still sold because there is no international ban on the practice, and many countries, including Australia, where mulesing is commonly practiced, continue to export wool to countries that do not have laws against it. However, the above-mentioned European countries have a ban against importing wool from sheep that have undergone the mulesing surgical procedure. Additionally, some buyers may not be aware of the practice or may prioritize other factors, such as price or availability, over animal welfare concerns.
However, some clothing brands and retailers have started to refuse to sell wool produced with mulesing, and consumer awareness and activism may encourage more companies to follow suit in the future.
In general, wool produced with mulesing may be cheaper than mulesing-free wool. This is because mulesing is a relatively quick and inexpensive procedure compared to alternative methods for preventing flystrike, such as breeding or using insecticides, which may require more time and resources.
However, there are other factors that can affect the cost of wool production, such as labor costs, animal welfare standards, and market demand for mulesing-free wool. For example, some countries may have higher labor costs or stricter animal welfare regulations, which can increase the cost of producing wool, even if mulesing is not used. Additionally, there may be a growing demand for mulesing-free wool among consumers, which can increase the price of mulesing-free wool.
Long story short, using certified wool practices might have a greater financial cost but it has a positive outcome that by far outweighs the financial cost as it helps protect the animals that give us their wool and it enhances the quality of the wool.
There are no outright studies clearly stating that mulesing-free wool gives a higher quality than the wool using mulesing but it’s safe to say that other factors affect the wool quality: the sheep's diet, living conditions and quality of shearing - and that strict standards such as the mulesing-free code of e.g. ZQ Merino benefit the sheep, the producers, and the people wearing the wool in the end.
In other words, we are proud to only sell products with mulesing-free wool from producers who adher to strict standards for animal welfare and environmental care, and you should be proud to use it too.