Monday, 1 May 2006

In response to Griffeaux’s comment on my last blog

“Griffeaux” made the following constructive comment of my Technology and Lamb Marking blog of 30 April 2006 “Phil, I'd be interested in your comments regarding the economic gains as a result of each of your headings under Technology and Lamb Marking. Also, what environmental gains are made as a result - and, you might ultimately respond on the social impacts of each activity - both short and long term.”
In response:
I’m going to make the assumption that there is not an implied objection to the farmers raising animals for use by humans for food and clothing, and consumers using/consuming such products.
From an economic perspective … each of the activities are undertaken on the basis that “prevention is better than cure” and to a certain extent "short term pain for long term gain" (a bit like getting ones tonsils removed!). For example, the marking process acts as a deterrent to stock thieves and simplifies the process of returning stock if they happen to accidently get out on the road or are stolen and recovered. Castration has an economic benefit to the farmer in that the consumer is prepared to purchase mutton from wethers, where many do not like the taste of the meat from mature / aged rams. I could go on. Oh, and by the way, I read recently that wool constitutes 2.3 % of global fibre consumption, reduced from 4 % in 1999.
From an environmental angle ... some could argue that castration prevents the natural formulation of male only flocks ... in turn reducing the hormonal diversity within an overall flock. Reduced fly strike makes life more comfortable for the sheep and the human carers, but does it reduce the food source for natural predators of flies! Of course the bigger issue from an environmental perspective is the decision making process around how the flocks are managed, and lamb marking is only a miniscule component of this.
From a social angle some will argue that lambs should not be ‘marked’ (in the broader definition) as some of the activities are cruel and that the animal suffers stress. Let’s not kid ourselves; the lambs do feel pain – especially from the tail docking. No doubt there have been scientific tests done that describe the intensity and duration of this discomfort. From my own observations most lambs seem to go straight back to feeding within a short period after marking process is concluded, and after 24 to 48 hours seem to be bouncing around the paddock with the same level of vigor as before the procedure. Against this is the chronic suffering that can occur from fly strike – and hear I’ve seen sheep that have had the walls of their stomachs with holes in them made by the activities of the maggots. Not pretty at all. For those that have not seen lambs marked the period of time an animal spends in ‘cradle’ restrained is only minutes. Some of the other social benefits of the marking process include product quality (from being able to trace back to individual consumers) and productivity (through improved animal health and tracking of individual animal performance.
One of the activities I was responsible for when helping my wife's brother with the lamb marking was attaching the ear tags to the ears. As I attached each ear tag I couldn't help but think how many of the human race front up for piercing in all sorts of places. Bazaar really!
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