Over the recent warmer months, RSPCA WA Inspectors received reports of sheep carrying excessive wool. In some instances, sheep had not been shorn for a number of seasons.

“Animal welfare issues associated with unshorn sheep are historically most frequent among, but not limited to, hobby and backyard farmers,” said RSPCA WA Animal Welfare Policy Research Manager, Dr Michael Paton. “In recent years, RSPCA WA has dealt with excessively woolly sheep on WA properties up to a few hundred acres.

“Many owners in this situation are inexperienced when it comes to understanding the basic health and welfare requirements of sheep.

“Planning and booking shearers well ahead of when they’re needed is important to make sure the wool is off the sheep prior to the warmer summer months,” he said.

Dr Paton warned that failure to shear sheep annually creates serious animal welfare issues including:

  • Grass seed infestation of wool, skin and hooves is also common in spring and can cause abscesses and reduce mobility, thus affect feeding and drinking.
  • Moisture build-up in long wool can lead to fleece rot, which invites flystrike.
  • After significant rain, moist fleeces make sheep heavier, and prone to becoming cast or developing foot abscesses when grazing wet pasture. Sheep that go down may struggle to get up, become less able to feed and drink, lose weight and eventually die.
  • Roundworm scouring can lead to dag formation around the breech, made worse when sheep are in long wool. The animal then becomes a target for flystrike, where flies become attracted to the extensive urine and manure contamination that usually occurs.
  • Ewes lambing in long wool may experience difficult births and lambs may struggle to find the teat to feed properly, particularly when suckling for the first time.
  • Long wool is a breeding ground for lice if sheep come into contact with other infested sheep.

In addition to the animal welfare implications of not shearing, economic impacts arise from production and financial losses.  

Leaving sheep unshorn to the extent their welfare suffers is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2002. People responsible for unshorn sheep could be issued with a Direction Notice by animal welfare inspectors requiring them to have the sheep shorn. In severe cases, owners could be prosecuted.

The owners of the sheep pictured above complied with Direction Notices and the excessive wool was removed from the sheep.