What is Mulesing?

All Rocksheep yarns are sourced from mulesing-free farms in South America and Europe!

Happy sheep buttocks

Mulesing is a procedure performed on young lambs and sheep. In mulesing, large strips of skin are removed on the buttocks of the animals and the tail of the sheep is amputated, typically after the third or fourth tail vertebra, sometimes skinning the remaining stump. Mulesing is performed without any kind of antiseptic, anaesthetic or pain relief in the majority of cases. It is considered an inhumane and unnecessary procedure by many veterinary experts, animal rights activists, sheep breeders, clothing companies and consumers around the world. Others consider it a necessity to ensure the production of affordable Merino wool in large quantities.

The goal of the procedure is to prevent flystrike (myiasis), a very painful condition. Especially Merino breeds are prone to flystrike because of the very wrinkled skin and thick wool on their buttocks. Faeces and urine are caught in the wool and attract flies, which then lay their eggs in the sheep skin. Because less, if any, wool grows on the buttocks after mulesing, cut sheep are less likely to attract flies. Mulesing is primarily perfomed in Australia and New Zealand, where very large flocks are standard and farmers can’t look after every single individual animal with the same attention as in smaller flocks.

As responsible consumers, we need to keep this in mind when purchasing Merino wool or yarn sourced from Australian and New Zealand farms. Not only crafters need to be aware of mulesing, but also the target group of new Merino textiles for outdoor sports. These materials have seen a large increase in popularity over the last few years and are very popular in the outdoor community.

There are alternatives to mulesing. First, there are breeding programs in South America and Europe, having animals with less skin around their buttocks as a goal. This is done by selecting those animals which are most resistant to flystrike and having these procreate. This way, whole Merino flocks can be transformed from being wrinkle-bodied to plain-bodied, not needing any mulesing, within a few years. However, this typically results in slightly coarser wool. Producers fear that consumers may reject this coarser quality. Other alternatives include subcutaneous injections which kill hair follicles in the butt area, plastic skin clips which stop the blood flow to the area so the skin falls off, and treatment with tea tree oil.

Typically, farms in South America and Europa are much smaller than those in Australia and New Zealand, so that flystrike can often be discovered before any harm is done. The farmer and the workers are typically in much closer contact with the animals and can react much better to any diseases in the flock than on super farms with 10,000 sheep or more.

All Rocksheep Merino yarn is sourced from mulesing-free farms in South America and Europe.

There is a lot of information available on the internet about mulesing. It’s worth looking into it and be more conscious about what yarn and fibre you buy.