Cruelty and neglect of sheep and lambs globally is an animal welfare crisis
Most lamb and sheep live their entire lives in paddocks. Many paddocks have no shelters or shade. Previous studies have shown that the comfort zone of sheep is between 21 -31 degrees Celsius. Temperatures outside these zones create cold or heat pain which can negatively affect the welfare of the animals often leading to high levels of mortality, especially among newborn, young, pregnant and old sheep. Merino sheep make up the bulk of all sheep in Australia and as at February 2018 it was identified that Merino sheep accounted for 75% of the total 32 million breeding ewes. Merino lambs made up 60% of the 21 million lambs. Scientific reports reveal that suffering from heat can begin at 26 degrees Celsius (WBT) in humid conditions. Many studies have been conducted on animals in heat chambers under various parameters to mimic conditions in ships. We know that humidity outside and inside is referred to the Wet Bulb Temperature (WBT).
“Industry research has also indicated that 26 WBT degrees and over is a ‘caution’ zone for heat stress, and 29 WBT and over is the ‘danger’ zone (and Barnes et al indicates for wethers that the danger zone commences at 28 WBT degrees Celsius).
Wet Bulb Temperature Risk Range
Safe < 26°C. Caution 26–29°C. Danger > 29° C
A range of WBT for heat stress in an analysis by Stockman et al (2011) found that increases in core temperature commenced at well below 30°C WBT closer to 23 -25°C. Source: Stockman et al (2011) p 136 Figure 1, 139 Figure 3.
If the above research was conducted in a controlled environment we must ask if these studies were with or without shade? If conducted without shade the results would mean that these animals would begin to suffer much sooner.
Winters are also harsh in Australia and many countries of the world where sheep are exposed to windchills and extreme temperatures, in particular during the lambing season. It has been estimated that about 12 million lambs died during the 2012 lambing season within 48 hours after birth and yet, sheep, often pregnant, continue to be kept in open paddocks without any shade or shelter. The suffering is immense but there are no laws in place to alleviate some of this distress and suffering. It is time to change and afford sheep some basic provision of shelter during both winter and summer.
What are the effects of prolonged exposure outside of a sheeps comfort zone?
- Organ Failure
- Sudden Death/Heart Failure
- Compromised Immune System
- Respiratory Disease
- Poor Milk Production
- Slowness & Lethargy
- Rapid Weight Loss
Using ‘Panting Scores’ to measure suffering
PANTING SCORES ARE USED TO MEASURE PAIN IN SHEEP. SHEEP WILL BEGIN TO SUFFER AT 70 PANTS PER MINUTE AND EXPERIENCE SIGNIFICANT PAIN WHEN PANTING BETWEEN 100-160 BREATHS PER MINUTE. (The word stress is inadequate to explain the pain experienced by Sheep)
In addition Animals Australia have added in, questioning WHAT LEVEL OF HEAT PAIN ARE TOLERABLE/ACCEPTABLE:
“it is our strong view that once sheep enter the panting stage (Heat Stress Score 2), with a rapid RR up to 160, they are clearly entering the danger zone and are at least in the ‘discomfort’ zone and likely suffering stress. This should be avoided and is not considered acceptable”
“Until such time that there is peer-reviewed evidence to indicate otherwise, the AVA recommends that sheep should never be exposed to HST 3, even for short periods. Sheep should not be exposed to HST 2 for more than 3 consecutive days where there is inadequate diurnal temperature variation to allow for respiratory rates to return to resting range at night (thermo neutral zone). Otherwise, sheep can start dying within 3 days of being exposed to continuously hot, humid weather, as heat load is cumulative. This duration of permissible exposure should be further reduced in the presence of other welfare imposts and/or co-morbidities, as these will further reduce the animals’ ability to cope”
Source: AVA Submission: Response to the Draft Report by the Heat Stress Risk Assessment (HotStuff) Technical Reference Panel 1 March 2019 https://www.ava.com.au/siteassets/advocacy/improving-animal-welfare/ava-response-to-hsra-technical-panel-review-1-03-19.pdf
COUNTING SHEEP PANTS IS ONE METHOD USED TO MEASURE WHEN SHEEP BEGIN TO SUFFER
- Normal resting – no panting (body temp 39) Respiratory rate is 15-35 resting
- Mild heat pain – slight panting (BT 39.5) Respiratory rate is 70-100
- Moderate heat pain—open grin and fast Panting (BT 40+) Respiratory rate is 100-160 (Entering the danger zone at 160)
- Severe – Respiration laboured Open mouth panting (BT-40.5+) Respriatory rate is 160-220 (AVA recommends sheep must never be exposed to this level of suffering even for short periods.
- Near death—Tongue out -extreme laboured respiration – (BT-41+)Open mouth panting
The physiological RR in sheep is 25-30 breaths per minute. An increase in frequency above 40 breaths per minute can be considered as panting and it is used to increase the heat loss by exhaling water vapour in breath. In severe heat pain, the RR ranges between 160 to 220 breaths per minute and being close to death can reach 300 bpm. It is easy to understand why respiratory disease is one of the biggest contributors to death among sheep in summer.
For a list of normal respiratory rates for all animals please refer to https://www.msdvetmanual.com/special-subjects/reference-guides/resting-respiratory-rates
The cruel practice of Mulesing
Mulesing is the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the breech of a sheep to flystrike.
According to Animals Australia “Young lambs often have the skin around their buttocks and the base of their tail cut off with a pair of metal shears (to reduce soiling and the risk of flystrike). This painful practice, called mulesing, has been banned in New Zealand for cruelty, but sadly can still legally be performed in Australia without any pain relief.
The large, open wound created by mulesing can take many weeks to heal. During this time, lambs are at added risk of infection and flystrike.
While mulesing is inflicted on lambs to reduce flystrike, several other less invasive and much less painful solutions exist. In 2010, the leaders of the Australian wool industry backed down on a commitment to phase out mulesing in favour of more humane alternatives. In 2016, wool industry leaders would not even support mandatory use of pain relief for mulesed lambs (let alone start a phase-out of mulesing), so sadly millions of lambs in Australia are continuing to undergo this cruel surgery, many with no pain relief whatsoever”
What You Can Do
You can sign Animals Australia’s petition
Animals Australia advises that “The most powerful message each of us can send to the wool industry is that caring consumers and community members will not support animal cruelty. If you choose to buy wool products, enquire of the retailer whether the wool is ethically sourced (from sheep that are not mulesed—as a minimum!).
Show Australia’s decision makers that the Australian public is appalled by the Australian wool industry’s cruel treatment of animals. Use the following key points to compose a letter to the editor of your local paper:
- Mulesing, which involves cutting skin from the backside of an animal without pain relief is cruel and outdated.
- Whilst the Australian wool industry continues to mules sheep, factory farm sheep for ‘ultra-fine’ wool and export live animals, they taint Australia’s international reputation.
- Retailers throughout Europe have boycotted Australian wool from mulesed sheep in response to consumer concerns about animal cruelty.
- In the past the Federal Government has unquestionably backed the wool industry. It’s time for the Australian government and the wool industry to wake up to the fact that Australians and the international public alike, will not tolerate animal cruelty.”