Lambs forced to endure the painful mulesing mutilation are vulnerable to blowfly-strike and can be a provocative lure for attracting preditors

For almost 90 years of cruelty in the Australian wool industry, the only end in sight was a bloody lamb’s bottom, but after just 30 months of hard-hitting PETA campaigning, animal advocates can celebrate what just might be the beginning of the end of mulesing mutilations in Australia.

PETA, others in the litigation, and industry group Australian Wool Innovation reached an agreement  in which AWI promised to withdraw its pointless lawsuit, which has already cost the wool industry millions of dollars.

In response to the withdrawal, PETA promises that the boycott of Australian wool will continue at full throttle as long as any lambs are still forced to endure the painful mulesing mutilation or one sheep boards a cruel live export “death ship.”

Pink Calls for Boycott of Australian Wool

PETA’s Australian legal representation described AWI’s decision to drop its lawsuit as “a clear lesson to other industries that it is extremely unwise to try to silence their critics by using heavy-handed litigation, rather than sensible dialogue.”

Major international retailers—including H&M, Perry Ellis, Adidas, and dozens of other major retailers—have announced that they will boycott mulesed wool.

"Clip mulesing," in which farmers clip clamps onto lambs' skin so tightly that the skin dies and falls off. Young lambs in unsecured terrain become easy prey for feral foxes and farm dogs

These companies made their decisions despite the Australian wool industry’s efforts to placate retailers and consumers by phasing out the conventional mulesing mutilation in favor of a new mulesing mutilation, “clip mulesing,” in which farmers clip clamps onto lambs’ skin so tightly that the skin dies and falls off.

Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), an Australian wool-industry trade group, seems to have hoped that since clip mulesing is less bloody, retailers might overlook its obvious problems. AWI director Chris Abell went so far as to say, “There’s a very big difference, there’s no bloody back end of the animal to display to shock the retailers with a clip.”

But a lack of blood does not make a procedure painless. Animal welfare experts have condemned clip mulesing as painful and inhumane.

“Animal abusers—sue us at your own peril. As long as a single sheep is mutilated or herded aboard an export death ship, we will continue to urge the boycott of Australian wool.

“AWI has had to make concessions under the agreement, including a pledge to fast-track the development of a genetic alternative to mulesing by seeking the transition of overly woolly merino sheep to the bare-breeched breed, something that PETA has pushed for since its campaign began.

AWI has also agreed not to stand in the way of any labeling program whereby wool would be identified as coming from nonmulesed or mulesed sheep, a system that would give less-cruel farmers an advantage in the increasingly popular “compassion-aware” marketplace.

AWI is also bound to provide quarterly reports detailing its investments and its progress in genetic alternatives to mulesing, as well as to encourage the development, approval, and use of pain relief products.

The only concession that PETA has made, if it can even be called one, is to abandon a strategy that we had decided was no longer the best one anyway, i.e., targeting just one retailer at a time. Rather, we will make sure the whole retail industry knows why it is wrong to buy wool from mulesed or live exported sheep.

Lambs and sheep in Australia still face grave misery, and compassionate citizens must continue to pressure the government and industry to end the horrific practices of mulesing mutilations and live exports.

Marc Bouwer—whose designs regularly appear on some of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Mariah Carey, Julianne Moore, and Angelina Jolie—informs says that he will no longer use Australian wool in his designs

Top American fashion designer Marc Bouwer had already fired off a letter to previous Australian Prime Minister John Howard urging him to stop two of the Australian wool industry’s abusive practices—cutting huge chunks of skin and flesh from the backsides of sheep and exporting millions of animals to the Middle East, where they are cruelly slaughtered in ways that would be illegal in Australia.

“I recently learned from my friends at PETA how sheep are treated in Australia and am so appalled that I will be cutting all Australian wool from my future collections,” writes Bouwer.

“Your government’s failure to take steps toward enforcing an end to these crude practices reflects poorly on Australia’s standing as a wool supplier in the global fashion marketplace.”

In Australia, where more than a quarter of the world’s wool comes from, farmers use tools similar to gardening shears to cut huge chunks of skin and flesh from lambs’ backsides—without giving them any painkillers—in a crude mutilation called mulesing. 

Each year, millions of Australian sheep who no longer produce enough wool are crowded on export ships and sent to the Middle East, where they are cruelly slaughtered.

Sheep who survive the terrifying voyage are dragged off trucks by their ears and legs, tied up, and beaten, and they have their throats slit while they are still conscious.

A growing number of prestigious retailers and top fashion designers—including Abercrombie & Fitch, Limited Brands, and Timberland—have pledged not to use cruelly obtained Australian wool.

Transport Terror

Millions of sheep who are less profitable to wool farmers are discarded for slaughter. This results in the cruel live export of 6.5 million sheep every year from Australia to the Middle East and North Africa, where sheep are crammed aboard multitiered open-deck ships. Nearly 800,000 sheep enter the live export trade from the U.K. and are slaughtered abroad.

Australian and New Zealand sheep are slaughtered in the Middle East, after enduring a grueling, weeks- or months-long journey on extremely crowded, disease-ridden ships with little access to food or water through all weather extremes.

Many sheep fall ill, many become stuck in feces and are unable to move, and many are trampled to death by other sheep trying not to fall or trying to reach water when it is available. Shipboard mortality ranges up to 10 percent.

In 2002, 14,500 sheep reportedly died from heat stress while in transit to the Middle East. Their carcasses were thrown overboard.

Between August and October of 2003, more than 50,000 sheep suffered aboard the MV Cormo Express when the Saudi Arabian government refused to accept the sheep because too many of them were believed to be infected with “scabby mouth,” an infectious disease that results in sores and scabs around the animals’ mouths.

After nearly two months aboard this ship, with very little food and water, often in temperatures exceeding 100°F, the African nation of Eritrea accepted the sheep for slaughter.

When the survivors arrive at their destination, they are dragged from the ships and thrown into the backs of trucks and cars, eventually to have their throats slit while they are fully conscious.

In the Muslim nations of North Africa and the Middle East, ritual slaughter is exempt from humane slaughter regulations. Some sheep are slaughtered en masse in lots, while others are taken home, often in the trunks of cars, and slaughtered individually by the purchasers. 

11 replies »

  1. VIDEO

    Pink Calls for Boycott of Australian Wool
    Outspoken rocker and animal rights activist Pink has long shunned fur and often opts for alternatives to leather. Now, she has joined PETA’s campaign to expose the horrendous, hidden cruelty in the wool industry. Between her time in the studio and performing sold-out shows, Pink sat down with PETA to narrate our video exposing the bizarre cruelty behind Australia’s massive merino sheep trade.

    In the shocking video, Pink shows viewers the suffering that sheep endure in the Australian wool industry. Millions of lambs are mutilated each year by having chunks of skin and flesh cut from their backsides—without any pain relief—in a practice known as “mulesing,” even though humane alternatives are available.

    Pink also describes the treatment of sheep who, because they are no longer producing enough wool, are transported thousands of miles through scorching heat and freezing cold in extremely crowded ships to have their throats slit in filthy, open-air markets while they are still conscious.

    This video is both powerful and moving

    Learn more at

  2. When you’ve got a pet sheep you notice things that make them comfortable and happy. It’s like a cat or a dog. They get to like you and you watch out for their water and if they get hot or cold.

    On farms it doesn’t matter when animals are born, they are lumped in together like one age group instead of at different levels of development. Nobody cares if there hot or cold or scared.

    I suppose the farmers think about the value. If our sheep gets scared its heart beats real fast and it shakes. We take care of it and get it shorn by a kind man.

    I heard if a sheep gets sick the farmer might shoot it instead of taking it to the vet. I think the farms need looking at a bit more closer.

    The reason we got our pet sheep is because a friends got a farm and when it was real dry weather, some of the sheep didn’t have food so they died having lambs. The friend – a farmer told dad he didn’t want to feed the lambs so he hit them on the head with a hammer. We managed to get one and are glad we got it.

  3. If you think about how full of pain the life of a sheep is, it puts you off eating lamb altogether. The sight of sheep skin will always remind me of these aweful photos. I can’t believe what happens behind the huge fences of some of these farms. Farmers always have expensive vehicles and everyone feels sorry for them in the bad weather, but who feels sorry for the sheep. They only feel sorry because they aren’t making money.

    Shame on you all for makng a living out of the misery and exploitation of these poor helpless animals. This is no different to what happens in China. I hope PETA keeps showing the world what happens in sunny Australia. Riding on everyone elses backs.

  4. I was visiting my mate who’s folks have a farm. They were docking tails that day. It was a shocker to see them put rubber rings high up on the tails of the lambs and then cut off the tail below the ring and throw it to the dogs. No wonder dogs maul sheep.

    Worst was I saw them cut the testicles out big lambs because the rings wouldn’t fit. My mates dad did that with his pocket knife.

    Some of the lambs had the runs but they kept on cutting the tails off and then shoved them out into the paddock to find their mums or not. Some of them couldn’t get up for pain. I think this is where all the worst stuff happens.

    These people are always talking about the price of lamb and wool. They never talk about how to make the poor sheeps life a bit better. When the dogs tore bits of the sheep I heard a comment like – it’ll be ok by shearing time. My mate said there’s more blood at shearing time to.

  5. PETA might have missed some of this other stuff Drew. Might send them this thread.

    What goes on without a health inspector eh.
    Have seen some of this stuff but with cows. We need our trees to soak up the carbons and emit oxygen. The cows have ruined entire areas. They ringbark all the trees and crap in the creeks.
    Sheep are hard to maintain because they don’t suit the type of country here. The never did. If they have to clear out all the preditors when they aren’t doing there own bit, it’s stuffed from the start. Theres lots of potions for sheep ailments they get over here, like pinkeye, rye grass staggers, scouring, scabies, lice, maggots, foot rot… huge list just to get some blood stained wool.
    The PETA boycott hasnt come to soon. Sheep are a pain in our backside too. We can’t eat lamb cos we get cholestrol deluxe. So what are they feeding us? What about all the chemicals they put on the wool and we get the itches and scratches.
    I hear the sheep were taken off the properties because of the international boycott. Now there trying to build them up again in some places, and clearing out all known competition, but PETAs got them cornered.
    90 years of deliberate suffering that we never heard about.
    Waht else are these mongrels doing? Too many people riding on the backs of these poor sheep alright. Jobs, jobs, jobs to support cruelty to all animals.
    At least hobby farmers look after the animals properley and keep them in good type country and have proper fences. These butcher-farmers want money handed to them on a blood stained plate.

  6. I tell you what i worked on a place that did this mulesing and seen sheep with water coming out of their eyes and mothers bleeting for their lambs. Lots of farmers really have no respect for any form of life, it really is money. There own dogs are forever ripping into the sheep and lambs. Hope they pick up a bait.

    I’ve seen sheep bogged and shot and sure they could’ve been saved. The old rifle solves a half a dozen blokes a few days work. There just left there. It’s ok to blame everything else and get some pity. Where you got rotting sheep you get some interest from the carrions, so they get shot to.

    I can’t even eat lamb now without thinking about the conditions some of them live in and hungry…thats another story.. Sheep need to be in better country and a limit put on how many these big spenders can have cos they sure can’t look after them. These are the EC exceptional circumstance and funding should be taken away. But we hear the blame game for no produce.

  7. I don’t think any farmer enjoys mulesing. But flystrike is worse. Its called cutaneous myiasis, and its where a gravid female blowfly lays eggs in wool (which they are attacted to as it becomes soiled with urine and faeces around the breech (perianal, genital and tail areas). These eggs hatch into larve which feed on the living flesh of the sheep. It is invariably fatal as it isn’t visible until its well and truly in swing. This caused pain and then systemic shock to the sheep which go down and are slowly eaten alive while they starve and dehydrate. That is why a farmer must put it down if discovered in this state- there is no treatment which wouldn’t kill the sheep anyhow as its too far gone.

    I personally do not condone mulesing, nor do many Australians. Farmers are desperate for an alternative- they don’t want to puposely cause harm and to takes a lot of time to do it at lambing also. Many alternatives are being investigated currently at universities throughout Australia. Breeding alternatives are in site as well as chemical treatments to reduce hair growth. It must be remembered that this practice developed in the 1920’s. While animal welfare has progressed since then, it is inhumane to accept sheep death from flystike (occurs in 40%-100% of un-mulesed sheep depending on weather conditions, vs around 5% in mulsed sheep) so until the acceptable and effective alternatives are found it will continue.

    Please investigate the facts before condeming the farming industry.

  8. Michelle,

    You neglect to point out the industry is at cause of the inhumane treatment, suggesting the industry is ill-suited to the environs, a theme we a seeing with much colonial introduced economies. The world agrees and has stopped buying wool and hopefully Australian farms can revert to the wild or find less destructive activities to keep themselves busy – eco tourism, bush tucker, sustainable farming…this is the trend resulting from the eco damage caused by mono – culture farming and wholesale thougthless export of meat and cereals without consideration to the costs.

    Pastoralism as we knew it is finished in Australia, the world is watching and so are some of us : )

    Long live the sheep!!!!

  9. I do not mules my sheep, but i do not hold those who do in contempt as everyone else seems to do. of course i do not like to see any animal suffering, sheep included. Whoever thinks that the average farmer is rolling in money and drives the most expensive car needs to get out of the city more. does any of you know just how expensive it is just to get a vet onto a property? Stuff the 70-80 dollars for the old lady’s cat. For the majority of farmers, who have no spare cash just laying around to satisify greenie mobs, it is better to put them down BECAUSE it is actually less suffering for the animal! A lot of city people don’t seem to understand that the average stockowner would rather see their animal die a QUICK, PAINLESS death rather than linger for days on end until they see if the medication will actually work. Unlike people, stock can’t just stroll into the local doctors room and tell them whats wrong- sometimes it takes weeks and several different medications before an improvement is seen.

  10. Thankfully people like Rami and Michelle can put some perspective on this incredibly ill informed argument. Did any of you read Pink’s retraction where she regrets not looking into the matter a bit more thoroughly. Do you really think farmers don’t care for thier stock. That is their lively hood and most work under incredibly harsh conditions for very little reward. The only way to survive is to ensure their animals are in as best condition as possible. No one is proud of the mulesing process by it’s by far the lesser of the two evils. A sheep dying the agonising death of fly strike is nothing compared to the mulesing practice. And get to know the animals, the majority of the trauma is infact the confinement, the nerve endings of the sheep are not the same as us, so don’t compared it to having your own bum shaved raw. Personally i find the whole dental practice a little barbaric, but i endure it rather the ongoing pain of decay and eventual blood poising and death through infection. I beg you to get a little hands on with this and witness the effect of not muelsing before you start making your demands.

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