God loves Australia, He gave us Mutant Sheep

Well, it’s better than boiling mud (1). One of the iconic images of Australia is the Merino sheep, an extremely woolly, arid-land adapted animal that is the backbone of our wool industry. One draw back of their wooliness is that urine and feces accumulate on the sheep’s wool between the hind legs. This attracts flies that lay eggs there, and when the maggots hatch they start eating the sheep alive.

To combat this “fly strike”, Australian farmers have surigally removed the wool-bearing skin between the sheep’s hind legs, a process called Mulesing. This is done without anaesthesia on farms, so the Animal rights group PETA has kicked up a fuss and there is a looming trade boycott on Australian wool.

However, just recently a group of mutant sheep were found on a remote property here in South Australia (listen to the audio presentation for full details). The sheep lack the wool and the folds of skin between the legs found on normal Merinos, and so are relatively immune to fly strike. It remains to be seen if this beneficial mutation can be bred into Australia’s herd successfully, but it would be amusing if the wrath of PETA was averted by mutant sheep.

(1) The title is taken from comedian John Clarke’s alternative national anthem “God Loves New Zealand, He gave us Boiling Mud”