Warmer weather brings with it a tail of flystrike infection in sheep
It’s a topic about as attractive as a sheep’s backside, but one which unfortunately confronts RSPCA’s regional inspectors all too often, with devastating effects on animal welfare.
Flystrike is an ugly condition, occurring most commonly in sheep when blowflies and maggots infest the folds of skin around their tail area.
Among the 290 reports, involving more than 120,000 sheep, received by RSPCA WA last financial year, this was a key area of concern.
And with the warmer weather starting to set in, there will be plenty more reports to come.
Painful death and illness from flystrike remains a risk to sheep across most Australian environments.
For producers, it also has a substantial financial impact, with prevention, treatment and productivity losses estimated to cost the industry over $173 million annually.
For many years, the go-to solution has been mulesing — cutting skin from around a lamb’s breech and tail to create an area of stretched scar tissue. But the tide is turning away from this practice. Now is a good time for producers to consider their short and long-term prevention strategy. Selecting and breeding sheep which are less susceptible to flystrike is a promising area of development. Recent research found introducing plain-bodied Merino sires into a wrinkly flock dramatically changed the requirement for mulesing within just five years.
In 2017, the Australian Wool Innovation found, among Aussie producers who had mulesed, around half had decreased their mules size in the last 10 years.
Producers who had stopped mulesing altogether cited a lack of necessity, breeding less wrinkled sheep, and industry or consumer pressure as the main drivers. If producers are still mulesing, RSPCA WA supports the gold standard use of multimodal pain relief, for example NSAIDs and local anaesthetics. However, we acknowledge that long term, there should be a focus on breeding out flystrike susceptible sheep, which will make mulesing a thing of the past.
In the shorter term, important flystrike prevention strategies include:
- Shearing or crutching.
- Applying appropriate chemical treatments.
- Reducing scouring risk and dags.
- Selection of less flystrike-prone paddocks.
- Reducing fly populations.
A dedicated decision support tool called FlyBoss is available to help producers make decisions around a flystrike plan. Along with sheep, other farm animals, horses, and even pets can be impacted by flystrike.
Animals who are sick, unable to clean themselves properly, or have open wounds are at a higher risk. These animals should be cleaned and treated promptly, and inspected regularly. If you have rabbits, a good way to protect them is by placing netting over hutches or runs.
MESSAGE FROM RSPCA WA MID WEST INSPECTOR MAUREEN ROGERS
This season is showing some concerning signs for flystrike, with long grasses and the return of the green blowfly, which hasn’t been prevalent in the Mid West for several years. Green blowfly maggots may burrow into healthy flesh, causing blood poisoning and death if left untreated, while the moisture in long grass can lead to flystrike in areas such as heads, underbellies and feet.
With the weather warming up, I’d urge people to look into prevention strategies now.
RSPCA is available to help with information, advice and support wherever possible.
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