The Industry

The Sheep Industry

Despite their gentle nature and capacity to suffer as any other animal, sheep are not protected by the same laws as are cats and dogs. “Codes of Practice” allow farmers to cut of pieces of young lambs without pain relief, shearing often causes the animals immense suffering, the transport of these animals to slaughter is a stressful and harmful process and slaughter is far from the “humane” myth that the industry would have us believe. The following are some of the facts of the industry:



Meat and Livestock Australia state that “Cold, wet and windy weather increases lamb mortality” Ewes are at their most fertile time from March to May meaning that if joined naturally they will give birth, after a 5 month gestation period, in August to October. In Australia, however, lambing is usually timed to occur mid-winter so that once the lambs are weaned the spring grass will be growing and the expense incurred by the farmers for feed will be reduced. The demand for “Spring Lamb” is also a benefit of this artificial timing. Lambs are born into freezing conditions, often at night, resulting in the death of many.

Sheep are selectively bred to have a greater number of lambs. When a sheep has multiple births she is often unable to care for all her babies so one or more may be abandoned. A few years ago it was estimated that up to 15 million lambs die within the first 48 hours of life every year in Australia due largely to malnutrition and/or exposure. Lambs are unable to regulate their body temperature for the first 36 hours so, without the care of their mother, they are likely to die.

Agriculture Victoria, in their guidelines on sheep welfare, write that orphan or stray lambs may be killed.


Castration, Tail docking, Ear marking and Mulesing

Castration: male lambs, unless marked for slaughter prior to puberty, will usually be castrated. Acceptable methods of castrating male lambs without anaesthesia are by cutting with a knife or having rubber rings applied.

Tail Docking: According to the Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Sheep (Agriculture Victoria) tail docking should be performed on lambs as early as management practices will allow, preferably between 2 and 12 weeks. Disregarding any pain they may feel, the acceptable methods of tail docking, without anaesthesia, are: cutting with a sharp knife, applying rubber rings or using a gas flame heated scarring iron.

Ear Marking: Ear marking instruments should be sharp, with the cutting edges undamaged, so as to prevent tearing of the ear. Ear tagging can cause some tearing of the ear if not conducted properly; careful technique will avoid this.

Mulesing: Mulesing involves cutting a crescent-shaped slice of skin from each side of the buttock area; the usual cut on each side is 5 – 7cm in width and extends slightly less than half way from the anus to the hock of the back leg in length. Skin is also stripped from the sides and the end of the tail stump. This surgical procedure is usually done without any anaesthetic. The large scars left after mulesing take several weeks to heal and are susceptible to infection and flystrike. The idea behind mulesing is to reduce flystrike which is when blowfly eggs laid on the skin of the sheep hatch into larvae which then feed on the sheep’s tissue. Whilst flystrike can be a risk to sheep it is a treatable condition. In flocks of hundreds of sheep, however, flystrike can be harder to detect and farmers are reluctant to spend the time monitoring the occurrence or treating any cases. If sheep were not bred in such large numbers for the animal food industry flystrike could be easily monitored and treated if it did occur.

“A maximum upper age limit of six months to perform the procedure before mandating pain relief is recommended”

“Lambs mulesed with no drug application exhibited large increases in the stress-responsive hormone cortisol, reduced lying and increased standing with a hunched back compared with unmulesed lambs.”

“The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) position on mulesing is that: 10.6 Surgical mulesing Position Statement The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) strongly supports the sheep industry’s decision to cease surgical mulesing by the end of 2010”

“Until mulesing is ceased:

  • All lambs being mulesed should be treated with approved analgesics to minimise the pain associated with the procedure
  • Operators carrying out the mulesing procedure should be accredited
  • The appendix on mulesing in the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: The Sheep is recognised by the AVA as a sound basis for mulesing practice. Blowfly strike is a serious animal welfare concern. Alternative methods of fly strike management and blowfly control that do not involve surgical removal of skin from the breech region are available and should be used and further developed. Ratified by the AVA Board: 18 June 2009”


Sheep originally grew just enough wool to protect themselves from temperature extremes. The fleece provides effective insulation against both cold and heat. Due to breeding and genetic manipulation, however, sheep raised by the wool industry produce excessive amounts of wool. Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without regard for the welfare of the sheep.

Despite the fact that shearing causes sheep a high degree of stress, they are usually shorn twice a year with one of those times being late Autumn/early Winter  leading into a time when they are most in need of their fleece to protect them from the cold. One of the reasons for this is to try to force the ewes into seeking shelter from the cold for their lambs but it also enables farmers to make a greater amount of profit from their wool.


Transport: Sheep transported in trucks to slaughter are packed in tightly due to the theory that this will keep them stable throughout the journey and prevent falls. Trucks arriving at slaughterhouses, however, often have downed sheep who are sick or injured and who are being trampled by others. Trucks regularly have sheep with limbs protruding from the vehicle despite the fact that this is illegal.  Although it is the responsibility of the driver to regularly check and attend to sheep throughout the journey, to attend to a sheep in the middle of hundreds of others on the truck without unloading them all will be impossible. It is illegal to transport pregnant sheep but it is common for sheep to give birth on the truck or arrive at the slaughterhouse pregnant and either give birth in the holding yards or be killed and their baby disposed of.

Time off food and water before and during transport

Maximum time off water and required spelling periods:

Sheep over 4 months old              48 hours                              36 hours

Lambs under 4 months                  28 hours                             12 hours

Ewes known to be more than 14 weeks pregnant,

excluding the last 2 weeks           24 hours                              12 hours

“Studies have shown that lambs sometimes fail to drink even when water is made available in lairage yards.”

“Time off feed Fasting is important for reducing gut contents prior to transport and slaughter. Soiling on trucks is both a food safety and an environmental issue. However, research has shown that most of the reduction in gut contents occurs within the first 24 hours of a fasting period. Little further benefit is gained by extending the fasting period beyond 24 hours.”


The slaughter process – Stunning, Sticking, Bleeding and Dressing

Slaughter – means the killing of animals and involves stunning, sticking and bleeding

Stunning – means a procedure for rendering an animal unconscious and insensible to pain

Sticking – the severing of large blood vessels to induce effective bleeding

Primary bleeding – means the initial and major part of bleeding that follows incisions made to initiate exsanguinations and that is characterized by a continuous flow of blood

Dressed – means the progressive separation of an animal into a carcase (or sides of a carcase), offal and inedible material. Examples of dressing include the removal of the head, hide or skin, genital organs, urinary bladder, feet, viscera and in lactating animals, the removal of the udder



Sheep and goats may be stunned using a penetrating captive-bolt or electrically stunned

All animals which are not irreversibly stunned should be struck and bled out immediately after the stunning to ensure animals do not regain consciousness…the major blood vessels on both sides of the neck or the larger vessels near the heart must be severed quickly. If they are not completely severed there is a chance that the animal may regain consciousness.

Stunning, however, is not always effective:

“Although some of the sheep are moving after being stunned this can be due to “clonic” activity when, after a successful stunning, the sheep enter a “tonic” (rigid) phase for a few seconds and then enter a “clonic” seizure where their legs paddle. This can continue even after their head has been cut off. Using an electric stunner wrongly can cause paralysis which looks like unconsciousness but the animals are actually still conscious and feel everything.” – Chris Delforce – Aussie Farms



Meat and Livestock Australia estimate that 22 million lambs will be sent to slaughter in Australia in 2017. Despite the industry wanting us to believe in a “humane” slaughter method this is far from the truth. The animals suffer and die a terrible death. For more information on the slaughter methods in Australia abattoirs please visit

The age that lambs are slaughtered depends on market demands. Lambs as small as 12-14kgs dressed weight are supplied as suckling lamb while the majority of lambs prepared for the Australian market are around 18-24kgs dressed weight range. (Dressed weight range is the weight of an animal after being partially butchered, removing all the internal organs and oftentimes the head as well as inedible portions of the tail and legs).

Usually this will be at around 6 – 8 months of age. Sheep live a natural life span of 12-14 years


Humane destruction

“Humane destruction” when necessary has to be done promptly, safely and humanely. Recommended methods of humane destruction include:
• for sheep over six months old — firearm, captive bolt, lethal injection
or bleeding-out
• for lambs — firearm, captive bolt, lethal injection, bleeding-out or
blunt trauma; however, blunt trauma should only be used when there
is no other recommended option for humane destruction, and can only
be used on lambs that are less than 24 hours old.



Shelter is a legal requirement at farms, saleyards, feedlots or slaughterhouses.  This shelter, however, can be in the form of a single tree in a paddock for hundreds of animals. At the other establishments, there may be shelter but not all the animals necessarily have access to it.



If you are against cruelty to animals it should naturally follow that you would like the abuse of sheep to stop. This will only stop if people, like yourself, stop buying sheep based products. Please consider the animals in your next purchase of food, clothing or household item. There are many cruelty free products available.