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Empty those sheep out before shearing


Empty those sheep out before shearing

Meat & Wool Innovation is tackling the slippery problem of how long sheep should be kept off feed before shearing.

Full sheep have been the source of friction and employment problems between farmers and shearers for some time.

The standard recommendation is to fast the sheep, without access to either food or water, for 24 hours before shearing. But farmers are often reluctant to do this, particularly when shearing pre-lamb, in case it affects sheep performance or welfare.

The trouble is no-one knows how long sheep can be left to safely empty out without giving them a production check.

To find out the answer, the NZ Shearing Contractors Association has asked Meat & Wool Innovation – the new Meat New Zealand/NZ Wool Board joint venture – to do the necessary research.

MWI is now looking at all the available information, with the aim of coming up with guidelines for farmers, shearers and contractors.

There are many factors to take into account, including the condition of the animal, whether or not it’s pregnant and what type of feed it has eaten.

Emptying sheep before shearing has long been recognised as best practice in wool harvesting. However, MWI quality & risk manager, Kelvin Whall, says there are now three issues involved.

“There is the original problem of pen stain, caused by sheep defecating in the pens. This has been linked to carpet fade and as a result, heavily pen stained wool is discounted at sale,” he says.

“The two new elements are animal welfare and occupational health and safety.”

On the safety and health front, heavy sheep could have considerable OSH and ACC repercussions for the industry. ACC statistics are beginning to reflect this.

At 65–70 kg, modern ewes are often 20 per cent heavier than they were 10–20 years ago, especially in the North Island. If the sheep have several extra kilograms of feed in their gut, the risk of back and muscle injuries, which are already common among shearers, goes up.

NZ Shearing Contractors Association (NZSCA) research and development committee chair, Barry Pullin, says full sheep foul the workplace, making surfaces slippery and further increasing the risk of injury to shearers.

He says the risk of leptospirosis being transferred through urine getting into open wounds on shearers and wool handlers is also a problem.

Pullin says the welfare of the animals is also at risk.

“The pressure of stomach contents being forced onto vital organs makes it very uncomfortable, and often dangerous, for the animal.”

Full sheep also struggle more than empty sheep during shearing, increasing chances of injury to shearers, board staff and the sheep themselves.

Pullin says many shearers do not believe there is much evidence to support farmers’ concerns about properly emptying out their sheep.

He says the issue has been sitting in the “too-hard basket” for too long and welcomes the fact that MWI will be coming up with some answers.

Whall anticipates that the outcome will be a simple code of practice for emptying of sheep for shearing. “Once we have answered these questions, the development of a code of best practice should be a straight forward exercise. The whole sheep industry should welcome it.”


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