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Wool markers – keeping them out of the clip

Modern farming methods mean farmers need to be able to readily identify sheep for management purposes.

Fleece marking dyes are an increasingly popular way of doing this. Marks indicating drenching, tupping, or pregnancy status are common.

Marker dyes, however, can be costly contaminants of wool. Their presence damages the reputation of New Zealand wool with overseas mills and may result in lost sales that ultimately hurt the grower.

Contamination can arise from ...

  • Farm management practices
  • In-shed practices
  • The use of non-approved products
  • Incorrect application methods

If New Zealand wool is to retain its reputation for quality, marked wool must not leave the farm and find its way into the scouring process.

This technical brief looks at farm practices involving marking, and suggests ways in which farmers can minimise contamination.

Farm management

In the past, sheep markers were usually applied to the head where they could be easily seen. Because marker dyes would normally be carried by the sheep for several months, they would weather and fade -- making them easier to scour following shearing.

More recently, new sheep management techniques have increased the use of markers, and the ways they are used. This can make it more difficult for woolhandlers to deal with those marks -- for example, when they are applied to the back or flank rather than the head.

Pregnancy scanning

Perhaps the most significant innovation is sheep pregnancy scanning, and marking to identify dry and multiple bearing ewes. Scanning is done between 70 and 100 days before lambing. The mark is usually applied to the back of the sheep as marking the ewe's head can be difficult during the scanning operation. Special care is needed to ensure that the mark is only to the tips of the wool and as near the tail as possible if the head can’t be reached.

Pre-lamb drenching

A second innovation is the use of pre-lambing drench boluses. These are administered between 30 and 45 days pre-lambing, and the ewe is marked for later identification.

Scanning and pre-lamb drenching occur during winter, when UV levels are at their lowest. The resulting mark will have been exposed to very little sunlight, weathering or general wear and tear before the fleece is removed and scoured.

In-shed practices

Although all approved markers are scourable, buyers have no means of knowing whether dye in a wool sample is approved or not. Woolhandlers should therefore remove marked fleece from the clip.

Woolhandlers also need to be alert to markers that are hard to see. Some colours, such as yellow, are hard to spot, as are markers applied to the back or flank.

Pieces of marked fleece should be put in a separate fadge for eventual sale as "branded wool".

Approved markers

Only use markers that have been approved for use on sheep by MAF, under the Animal Remedies Act 1967. The MAF approval is shown on the product packaging. There is a fine of up to $1,000 for using non-approved wool markers.

Cattle and pig markers and tail paints often have similar packaging and are sold alongside sheep markers. They should not be used on sheep.


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