Using pain relief during husbandry procedures

During the past few years, a number of products have reached the Australian market that provide pain relief during management procedures such as castration, tail docking and mulesing.

That they are available at all is a result of an industry-wide effort involving innovation and risk taking by drug manufacturers, and the cooperation of regulators, led by the demand for such products by industry.

For the animals we manage, the use of these products leads to great relief from the pain at the time of enduring these procedures and afterwards as they recover. Using the products shows the world that you, as producers, really do care about raising and managing your animals as ethically as possible.

More advances are coming, with the earliest to appear most likely in the form of an expanded range of management procedures for which the product is registered.

The picture shows a prototype of the Num-Nuts® rubber ring castrator, which injects local anaesthetic into the tail and scrotum (of ram lambs) before the ring is applied. Its use was demonstrated at the International Sheep Veterinary Congress in Yorkshire, England, last year by its designers.

Research that they have conducted shows that injecting local anaesthetic halves the measurable chemical pain reaction within the lamb's body, and practically abolishes the behavioural reactions to the application of the rubber ring.

Photo of a demonstration of a prototype NumNuts applicator

We are fortunate to have these products become available, but they shouldn't be abused. It is important to closely read and follow the label directions, unless the product has been prescribed by a veterinarian, when their instructions must be followed.

Ensure that you can use the product for the procedure that you are performing. For example, Tri-Solfen®, the gel developed to apply on mulesing wounds on merino lambs, has recently had the range of registered uses expanded to:

  • mulesing of lambs
  • tail docking of lamb
  • castration of lambs and calves.

This expanded range of use still excludes use on wounds (such as shearing cuts), and any other uses.

We know that the pain associated with these procedures lasts longer than just the time when they are performed. If possible, it is preferable to use a combination of treatments that, between them, address both the immediate pain and any pain that might occur during the healing process.

Make sure that you heed the withholding periods. Also, if any of these products are used at marking time, ensure that you declare their use on the National Wool Declaration (NWD) when you offer your wool for sale.

Some important export markets are sensitive to the detection of residues of the drugs that these products contain, and we must make every effort to protect our markets, both domestic and internationally (see article on Livestock Production Assurance).

Declaring the use of pain relief on the NWD tells the buyers of your efforts to improve the welfare of the sheep that you care for.

The table describes how you might use the commonly available pain relief products. Note that the two products containing the active ingredient meloxicam (Buccalgesic® and Metacam 20®) are only available on veterinary prescription.

If you are considering using these products, contact your local veterinarian to find out what is required to have them prescribe these for use on your animals. Veterinarians may also recommend and prescribe alternative products in special circumstances, in addition to the ones listed in the table.

Commonly available pain relief products for use in management procedures


How applied

When applied

What it does

When it works

Meat WHP

Tri Solfen ®

To the wound

After the procedure, before release from the marking cradle

Contains local anaesthetic to deaden pain, adrenaline to stop bleeding and a disinfectant

Upon applying to an open wound

90 Days

Buccalgesic ®

Gel, inside the cheek

Before the procedure

Relieves pain by reducing inflammation

From 10 minutes

10 days

Metacam 20 ®

Injection, into muscle high on the neck

Before the procedure

Relieves pain by reducing inflammation

From 10 minutes

11 days

*WHP = withholding period before slaughter

Page last updated: 17 May 2021