Sheep with lamb

Ten Million Australian Lambs Die Every Year for Fashion

Shocking new footage reveals appaling lamb mortality rate in Australia


Vienna/Sydney 4 March 2024 – New footage has been published on the platform ‘Farm Transparency Project’ revealing the shocking and largely unknown reality for millions of lambs used for global wool production. In Australia, the leading wool producer, lamb mortality rates surpass the global average (9-20%) by up to ten per cent and in some cases reaching even 70 per cent, resulting in an estimated ten million lambs perishing every year. The biggest risks for newborn lambs include birthing difficulties, inappropriate husbandry practices or environment (e.g. lack of shelter), as well as poor breeding choices. In a new briefing paper, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, highlights how breeding less wrinkled sheep has the potential to tackle multiple welfare issues including mortality rates, flystrike and live lamb cutting (also known as mulesing), and advocates for urgent action to protect these vulnerable animals.

“Every year, millions of lambs, silently starve and freeze to death in solitude. If the mother is close by, it has to witness the agony, helplessly. This needless suffering occurs on an unimaginable scale. It’s simply heart-breaking and an issue that can and must be solved.”

Rebecca Picallo Gil, head of the end mulesing campaign at FOUR PAWS

For an Australian sheep the biggest hurdle is not to die within the first three days after being born. This is where over 80 per cent of lamb deaths are reported. If they survive, most lambs aged between two to twelve weeks undergo live lamb cutting (also known as mulesing) where they go through excruciating pain which lasts for days and leaves a wound behind that requires weeks to heal. More than ten million animals endure this archaic method annually, in which a study found to cause a four per cent death rate across the farms examined.

Studies also show that lamb mothers are at high risk too. Due to birthing difficulties (Dystocia) alone, it is estimated that nearly 300,000 ewes die every year in Australia. 

Picallo Gil continues: “Globally, live lamb cutting takes the lead as one of the most invasive routine-mutilations conducted on farmed animals, a mutilation that contributes to the overall high rates of lamb mortality across Australia. These latest images are hard to look at, and the certainty of live lamb cutting after this ordeal makes it even harder to bear.

“But thankfully there is hope, with growers reporting that the use of good genetics along with adequate animal husbandry practices, can help to tackle both high lamb mortality rates and reduce the need for live lamb cutting. For the welfare of lambs and their mothers, and for the sustainability of the industry, it is high time for a change.”

Growers report the fewer the wrinkles, the higher the survival rate

The solution starts before the lamb is even born: with the right breeding choices and adequate management. Wool producers like Don Mudford, a farmer who stopped live lamb cutting and achieved higher lamb survival rates by transitioning to plain-bodied sheep, is helping to lead the way.

Mudford says: “Since transitioning to plain-bodied sheep types, I’ve noticed our ewes are having less problems and more successful births and are better able to handle the physical demands of mothering.”  

While research on the relationship between plain-bodied, flystrike-resistant sheep and increased lamb survival is limited, grower accounts support the link between these factors. This was also found in a 2020 survey, by BG Economics, of nearly 100 wool producers across Australia.

FOUR PAWS calls for the urgent adoption of breeding and management practices that prioritises lamb and ewe survival. This includes breeding for flystrike-resistant, plain-bodied sheep in addition to other techniques outlined in the new briefing paper ‘Shining a light on lamb mortality’. It is also crucial for producers to be encouraged and supported to roll out these practices by peak institutions, assurance schemes certifying them and brands and retailers who profit from the sale of wool.

Brands against Mulesing

FOUR PAWS started to actively document international brands demanding wool free from live lamb cutting since 2020. What has started with 100 brands has grown to a remarkable number of over 400 brands in the last three years. Another group of 80 compassionate brands have signed the open ‘Brand Letter of Intent’ calling for joint effort to end mulesing by 2030.


80 per cent of the fine Merino wool for the global fashion market come from Australia – the only country in the world where live lamb cutting (mulesing) is legally and commonly practiced. Live lamb cutting entails large strips of skin sliced away from the hindquarters of lambs a few weeks old, generally without adequate pain relief. This causes intense pain, fear and stress for animals. Lamb cutting is used as a quick and cheap way to prevent fly infestation (flystrike), but there are alternative methods available. Alternative options include breeding plain-bodied and flystrike-resistant sheep paired with the right management. This can eliminate both flystrike and mulesing. Additionally, industry research and farmers’ accounts reportedly associate plain-bodied sheep with higher lamb survival rates.

  • Here you can find the full briefing paper.
  • Here you can find the wool producer survey.
  • Here you can find Don Mudford’s case study you can find Don Mudford’s case study.
  • Here you can find the investigative footage uploaded to the Farm Transparency Project by Collective Fashion Justice.
Lamb in a stable

Lamb Mortality Briefing Paper

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Michael Kellner

Michael Kellner

PR International Officer

+43 (1) 89 50 20 20

+43 (0) 664 504 38 97

VIER PFOTEN International 
Linke Wienzeile 236
1150 Vienna, Austria

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions.

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