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Modelling of breech strike risk and protective efficacy of mulesing in adult Merino sheep

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 15:22 authored by Brian HortonBrian Horton, Stephen CorkreyStephen Corkrey, Smith, J, Greeff, J, Karlsson, LJE

Context: Mulesing provides a high degree of protection against beech strike, but wool producers need to be able to predict the level of risk of flystrike if they cease mulesing.

Aims: To use data from trials of mulesed and unmulesed sheep to estimate the distribution of adult breech scores (wrinkle, breech cover and dag) from mean flock values, and use those scores to estimate the risk of breech strike in Merino sheep flocks.

Methods: Breech scores and breech strike from flocks with comparable mulesed and unmulesed sheep were examined using logistic functions to relate breech scores in mulesed sheep to those in unmulesed sheep, and to estimate the risk of breech strike in sheep for any given combination of breech scores.

Key results: Functions are given to estimate whole flock adult breech wrinkle and breech cover using combinations of the breech traits that are available. Unmulesed Merino sheep have a 6-fold increased risk of breech strike compared with mulesed sheep under the same conditions. There were increased relative risks of breech strike of 2.0 for each unit increase in dag score, 2.2 for each unit increase in breech wrinkle score and 1.7 for each unit increase in breech cover score. Mulesing reduced each of these risk factors, but had an additional 3.2-fold benefit independent of these factors. Adult breech wrinkle was most reliably estimated from neck wrinkle or from marking breech wrinkle (before mulesing). Breech cover was estimated from face cover, or from marking breech cover. The risk of breech strike if adult sheep were to be left unmulesed in a commercial flock was predicted using a centred log ratio transformation to estimate the distribution of dag scores in the unmulesed sheep, given the actual distribution in the mulesed flock. If the distribution was not known, then the mean dag score of the mulesed sheep could be used to estimate the distribution of dag scores in unmulesed sheep using a 2/3 power function to transform the mean dag score.

Conclusions: A flock of unmulesed sheep would need to lower breech wrinkle, breech cover and dag scores by 0.5 for each score to achieve a comparable level of risk of breech strike in mulesed sheep.

Implications: The use of the model will allow wool producers to selectively breed for sheep with lower risk of breech strike, while continuing to mules the sheep as long as it is necessary to do so. They will be able to estimate what the risk of strike would be if they cease mulesing, due to the proportion of sheep with potentially high wrinkle score, high breech cover or high dag scores at any stage of their breeding program.


Australian Wool Innovation Limited



Publication title

Animal Production Science










Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)


CSIRO Publishing

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright 2020 CSIRO

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Sheep for wool

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