Australian science and industry have notched up another world first with the commercialisation of a wool harvesting process without the use of a mechanical handpiece, according to an announcement today by the Minister for Industry, Science and Tourism, John Moore.
The development of Bioclip, a process which uses a naturally-occurring protein that causes sheep to shed their fleece, would benefit the nation's $3 billion wool industry, by improving wool quality and reducing chemical use at the top end of the national woolclip, the Chief Executive of CSIRO, Dr Malcolm McIntosh said.
The Woolmark Company (formerly International Wool Secretariat) is also pleased to see the commercialisation of this innovative technology. Managing Director, Adrian Kloeden said, "Bioclip is a tangible result of The Woolmark Company's research and development investment on behalf of Australian woolgrowers; an innovation that could revolutionise wool harvesting for many producers."
The Bioclip process is being displayed today by Bioclip Pty Ltd, at an open day held by a leading stud, "Roseville Park," near Dubbo, NSW. The display will feature sheep that have been defleeced using the new process.
"From its very beginnings, it has taken almost twenty years to research, develop and commercialize this natural protein which causes sheep to shed their fleece, just as happens normally in certain special breeds of sheep," Dr McIntosh said.
"Not only is this a world first for Australian science, but it also underlines the long lead-times and the great patience and persistence required to bring a revolutionary new product successfully to market." Dr McIntosh added that it was a fresh example of how technology was likely to be called on in the 21st century to perform many tasks that had hitherto involved mechanical equipment and large inputs of energy.
Bioclip managing director Mr. John Le Breton said Bioclip had been trialled on more than 15,000 sheep over the past 20 years, including one flock in Yass which had been treated annually for the last seven years.
The main advantages of the Bioclip process over conventional shearing was that it added value to the clip by eliminating second-cuts, skin pieces and reduced the need for chemicals used to control parasites, he said.
Bioclip is a major step forward in the welfare of the sheep.
"Bioclip also reduces variability in wool fibre length, increases carding yield and hauteur and decreases wool lost as noils during combing," he added.
It was particularly useful for adding value to the top end of a grazier's wool clip, by improving the quality and marketability of the best wool from Australian sheep. It also added value to sheep leather by avoiding shearing cuts to the skin.
Sheep using Bioclip are fitted with a retaining net and given a single vaccination of the protein. Stained wool that might devalue the fleece is removed as part of the process. The protein causes a natural break to occur in the wool fibres, and a week later the fleece is shed as a whole inside the net, and is easily removed by hand - in a process known as doffing - in a purpose-built mobile trailer.
The nets and specialised coats are made in Lithgow, NSW, by workers retrenched not long ago when the well-known Berlei lingerie factory closed.
Administration of the defleecing protein produces a short-lived elevation of the protein in the sheep and this returns to normal within 24 hours.
The wool begins to grow again after this period. The sheep can be marketed within 7 days of treatment.
The technique has added benefits in that it helps reduce the incidence of lice and dermatitis, so lowering the need for chemical control and the risk of contaminated wool in processing.
It also reduces the amount of stress, cuts and injury to sheep that can occur during mechanical wool harvesting.
The Bioclip process introduces a totally new concept in wool harvesting to an industry, which has been using mechanical techniques for more than five thousand years.
Bioclip was developed by a team of scientists at CSIRO Animal Production after they showed a naturally-occurring protein would defleece a sheep.
The research and development phase of the project was funded by CSIRO and the Woolmark Company, formerly known as the International Wool Secretariat. The final phase has involved collaborative research with Solutions Marketing and Research Group.