2 July 1998

Click Go The Shears Boys - No More

England's World Cup captain is not the only Shearer to feel down in the dumps just now. Australia's outback ringers may have to hang up their clippers, following the invention of Bioclip - a way to make sheep shed their wool of their own accord. Developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial organization (CSIRO) and Woolmark, the process relies on natural proteins to cause automatic fleecing.

Certain types of sheep are naturally prone to moulting, and this was the starting point for a research project spanning twenty years and involving trials with over 15 000 sheep. Bioclip was the revolutionary culmination.

The process works with sheep being fitted with what is effectively a hair-net (wool-net) before being vaccinated with the protein. The protein then causes the wool to break off and the fleece is removed by hand during a process called doffing.

For farmers and wool producers, the benefits are substantial. Bioclipped wool is more even in length and the clip less contaminated. Without the usual scars caused by shearing, the sheep skins also fetch a higher price.

Bioclip is also easier on the sheep. The process is less stressful than shearing and there is none of the nasty nicking and cutting that happens frequently with mechanical shearing. There are also environmental benefits because farmers need to use less chemicals to treat de-fleeced sheep with skin parasites and other skin problems.