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No flies on ‘freak’ sheep

By David Catchpoole

First published: 24 May 2006 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 7 December 2021 (GMT+10)
123rf.comthe-end-of-the-problem
The end of the problem?

Australia is one of the world’s major wool producers, despite a hot, dry climate which can cause problems for sheep. For example, flies target the crutch area as a place to lay their eggs, leading to ‘flyblown’ sheep, causing heavy losses for graziers.

Consequently graziers resort to ‘mulesing’ as a preventative measure—the surgical removal of wool-bearing skin from the crutch area—to keep the hind region of their sheep dry and fly-free.

But an alert grazier spotted a genetic mutation in his flock; namely, sheep which are naturally bald in the crutch area. Initially, he was concerned about the lack of wool around their hind region, but then thought: ‘hey, this could be very handy’.1

123rf.comFlystrike
Flystrike can cause heavy losses to the Australian wool industry.
123rf.comagainst-mulesing
In the face of an international campaign against mulesing, graziers are under pressure to curtail the practice.

This could revolutionize the Australian sheep industry, if the mutant animals can be multiplied and distributed widely.

This is a modern-day example of a ‘handy’ mutation in a cursed and ‘flyblown’ world. (See Beetle Bloopers for another example of how a defect can be an advantage sometimes.) Such mutations, advantageous in certain conditions, do not represent sugars-to-sheep evolution but rather show how new varieties, even ‘species’, could have appeared rapidly as the various animal kinds reproduced and spread out from the Ark after the Flood. In this context, it’ll be interesting to see just how quickly this new mutant ‘breed’ can be multiplied and adopted by the sheep industry.

References and notes

  1. Mutant sheep may solve mulesing problem, ABC News Online, 10 March 2005. Return to text.