Numnuts pain relief for lambs during marking on track for 2019 release

World-first technology to allow Australian sheep producers to safely deliver fast and effective pain relief to lambs during the castration and tail docking process is on track to be available to industry by mid-2019.

The Numnuts tool incorporates a single action handheld device that dispenses a rubber ring and injects local anaesthetic to alleviate pain when lambs are castrated and tail-docked, known together as ‘marking’.

The Numnuts tool incorporates a single action handheld device that dispenses a rubber ring and injects local anaesthetic to alleviate pain when lambs are castrated and tail-docked, known together as ‘marking’.

Numnuts is the result of a partnership between Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and Scottish product design and engineering firm 4c Design, to drive improvements in animal husbandry practices and animal welfare outcomes.

The Numnuts tool incorporates a single action handheld device that dispenses a rubber ring and injects local anaesthetic to alleviate pain when lambs are castrated and tail-docked, known together as ‘marking’.

The technology has now been licensed to Senesino for delivery to the Australian sheep industry with a pilot launch set for 2019.

Lead researcher from CSIRO, Dr Alison Small, said extensive animal trials of Numnuts in Australia have produced positive results. 

“Detailed research studies have been carried out at the CSIRO Chiswick field station, and in addition, commercial trials were carried out for both Merinos and crossbreds on five commercial farms in Australia during the 2018 marking season,” Dr Small said.

“There was a significant reduction in pain–related behaviours such as the ‘tucked up’ posture, bleating and lying down when sheep were treated using the Numnuts tool, as compared with just having rubber rings applied.”

MLA Program Manager Health, Welfare & Biosecurity, Dr Johann Schröder, said the tool will add real benefits for producers on-farm.

“The Numnuts tool will allow producers to administer effective pain relief in a safe, controlled and fast-acting manner without the need for a veterinarian to be present, making it a practical and economically viable option for on-farm use,” Dr Schröder said.

Numnuts Founder and Inventor, and Senesino Director, Robin Smith, said more than 15,000 lambs have been given pain relief at marking time using the Numnuts system, and it had been scientifically proven to reduce the acute pain spike inherent in tail docking and castration by up to 65%.

“Animal behavioural science studies investigated the response and effectiveness of our system in field trials by CSIRO in Australia and in pen trials by Moredun Research Institute in Scotland,” Mr Smith said.

“The scientists used ethograms that have been developed by vets and animal behavioral specialist over three decades to validate the effectiveness of the Numnuts prototype tool.

“4c Design was embedded throughout the testing and animal science stages. This hands-on involvement of the designers and engineers in every stage of the project has enabled user feedback to be incorporated into later prototypes. 

“In Australia, animal husbandry practice guidelines recommend marking lambs between two and eight weeks of age, and Numnuts is designed to be used on lambs up to 12 weeks of age.”

Mr Smith said it is anticipated the Numnuts device would cost about $200, while the cost per procedure is expected to be in the region of 65 cents.

“So, assuming equal numbers of male and females and that the procedure will be done on both tails and scrotums, it works out close to $1 per lamb,” Mr Smith said.

“The industry is responding to the growing interest from consumers and retailers in the husbandry of animals and the need for an improved marking tool.

“These are important husbandry practices - tail docking reduces soiling of wool with urine and faeces. This reduces the risk of sheep contracting the painful and potentially fatal disease, fly strike, and reduces the risk of carcase contamination in the abattoir.

“Castration reduces fighting between males, improves meat and wool quality and enables sheep producers to selectively breed sheep for beneficial traits by use of superior sires.”

Mr Smith said Senesino is aiming to make Numnuts available to about 500 sheep producers, marking contractors and vets in Australia in mid-2019 for the pilot launch.

Interested producers and industry stakeholders can register their interest in Numnuts here or get in touch on Twitter.

Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), the Moredun Foundation and CSIRO contributed to the development of Numnuts.

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