Sheep with lamb

Spring Heartbreak: 10 Million Lambs Die Every Year

Shocking new report, footage reveals lamb mortality rate in Australia


MARCH 27, 2024 – Spring has always been synonymous with birth, renewal and growth; however, a recent report reveals that Australian lambs are dying at an astronomical rate.

FOUR PAWS, the global animal welfare organization, reveals the shocking and largely unknown reality for millions of lambs used for global wool production through new footage and a briefing paper.

80 percent of the fine Merino wool market used in the global fashion originates in Australia. Merino wool is a sought-after resource and used worldwide in nearly every fashion industry from high-end fabrics (for its warmth, strength, and softness) to sports apparel (for its beneficial characteristics, such as breathability and odorless qualities). 

But hidden behind the glamour, millions of sheep suffer unnecessarily – millions die right after birth and most of the surviving lambs are subjected to incredibly cruel practices such as “live lamb cutting”.

Australia’s lamb mortality rates surpass the U.S. average (12%) and the global average (9-20%) by up to ten percent and in some cases reaching even 70 percent. This means an estimated ten million lambs perish every year. The biggest risks for newborn lambs include birthing difficulties, inappropriate husbandry practices, or environment (e.g. lack of shelter), as well as poor breeding choices.

FOUR PAWS advocates for urgent action to protect these vulnerable animals and offers solutions to this suffering. Breeding less wrinkled sheep has the potential to tackle multiple welfare issues including mortality rates, flystrike (parasitic infection) and live lamb cutting (also known as mulesing).

“Every year, millions of lambs, silently starve and freeze to death in solitude. If the mother is close by, it has to witness the agony, helplessly. This needless suffering occurs on an unimaginable scale. It’s simply heart-breaking and an issue that can and must be solved.”

-Rebecca Picallo Gil, head of the end mulesing campaign at FOUR PAWS

For Australian lambs, the biggest hurdle to survival is the first three days of life; a time where over 80 percent of lamb deaths are reported. If they survive, most lambs aged between two to twelve weeks undergo live lamb cutting, where they go through excruciating pain that lasts for days and leaves a wound behind that requires weeks to heal. To make matters worse, there is an established link between live lamb cutting and lamb mortality, with the cruel mutilation increasing a lamb's risk of death. Studies also show that lamb mothers are at high risk too. Due to birthing difficulties (Dystocia) alone, it is estimated that nearly 300,000 ewes die every year in Australia. 

Picallo Gil continued, “Globally, live lamb cutting takes the lead as one of the most invasive routine-mutilations conducted on farmed animals, a mutilation that contributes to the overall high rates of lamb mortality across Australia. These latest images are hard to look at, and the certainty of live lamb cutting after this ordeal makes it even harder to bear.”

“But thankfully there is hope,” Picallo Gil adds, “with growers reporting that the use of good genetics along with adequate animal husbandry practices, can help to tackle both high lamb mortality rates and reduce the need for live lamb cutting. For the welfare of lambs and their mothers, and for the sustainability of the industry, it is high time for a change.”

The solution starts before the lamb is even born. The right breeding choices and adequate management can drastically reduce suffering. Wool producers like Don Mudford, a farmer who stopped live lamb cutting and achieved higher lamb survival rates by transitioning to plain-bodied sheep, is helping to lead the way. Mudford explained, “Since transitioning to plain-bodied sheep types, I’ve noticed our ewes are having less problems and more successful births and are better able to handle the physical demands of mothering.”  

While research on the relationship between plain-bodied, flystrike-resistant sheep and increased lamb survival is limited, grower accounts support the link between these factors. This was also found in a 2020 survey, by BG Economics, of nearly 100 wool producers across Australia.

FOUR PAWS calls for the urgent adoption of breeding and management practices that prioritize lamb and ewe survival. This includes breeding for flystrike-resistant, plain-bodied sheep in addition to other techniques outlined in the new briefing paper "Shining a light on lamb mortality". It is also crucial for producers to be encouraged and supported to roll out these practices by peak institutions, assurance schemes certifying them, and brands and retailers who profit from the sale of wool.

FOUR PAWS started to actively document international brands demanding wool free from live lamb cutting since 2020. From this began the "Brand Letter of Intent" calling for joint effort to end mulesing by 2030.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2023, Australia reported its highest slaughter of lambs ever at 24,909,600 lambs. Meanwhile 10,000,000 of those lambs never lived long enough to be slaughtered. Australia is the leading wool producer in the world, yet it’s the only country in the world where live lamb cutting (mulesing) is legally and commonly practiced.  Live lamb cutting entails large strips of skin sliced away from the hindquarters of lambs a few weeks old, generally without adequate pain relief. This causes intense pain, fear and stress for animals. Lamb cutting is used as a quick and cheap way to prevent fly infestation (flystrike), but there are alternative methods available. Alternative options include breeding plain-bodied and flystrike-resistant sheep paired with the right management. This can eliminate both flystrike and mulesing. Additionally, industry research and farmers’ accounts reportedly associate plain-bodied sheep with higher lamb survival rates.

  • Here you can find the full briefing paper.
  • Here you can find the wool producer survey.
  • Here you can find Don Mudford’s case study.
  • Here you can find the investigative footage uploaded to the Farm Transparency Project by Collective Fashion Justice.
Lamb in a stable

Lamb Mortality Briefing Paper

Find out more

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organization for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need, and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organization advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy, and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam, as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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