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Aussie sheep farmers seek help from NZ

Published: 8:41PM Saturday January 06, 2007 Source: One News

A sheep farming practice has sparked calls for an international boycott of Australian merino wool and has prompted Australia to seek help from New Zealand.

Mulesing involves the clipping of skin and wool off the back end of a sheep to prevent fly-strike and animal rights activists say it is barbaric. They have enlisted international popstar Pink to their cause and she has brought international attention to the widespread practice.

"The wool trade uses methods so sadistic that it makes you want to clear your closet," says Pink.

But a new type of sheep being bred in the South Island might end up saving the Australian wool industry from the public relations disaster.

"It has been a shock to the Australian industry...it really rattled them," says AgResearch scientist David Scobie who has been working on a kinder alternative.

Scobie used to watch his own father mulesing sheep and nine years ago he started breeding a sheep that could be spared the 'barbaric" ordeal.

"That's one of the wonderful things about the sheep gene, there's so many traits around and we saw them one day and tried to bolt them together."

The so-called ultimate sheep looks no different from the top but underneath they are born with wool all over them which they then shed. The sleek look is a natural cure for fly strike.

Flies lay maggots which can kill a sheep in three days and if fly strike is prevented then there is no need to slice into the animals.

"It's only going to improve their welfare so we certainly welcome any research into breeding sheep that don't have these woolly areas," says activist Hans Krief.

And as Pink's young fans flex their consumer muscles the Aussies are suddenly clamouring for Scobie's invention.

"I flew straight over there to a crisis meeting and worked out a way forward."

The industry claims very few New Zealand farmers still use mulesing.

"Merino farmers used to use it in New Zealand but there was a huge incentive to abandon it and there are price incentives out there now for un-mulesed wool," says Scobie.

Animal rights activists agree mulesing is not as widespread in New Zealand as in Australia but Krief says it still affects around 700 sheep each year.

The video accompanying this article contains graphic images.

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