RSPCA Victoria rescues sheep with 21.7kg fleece prompting warning to shear ahead of summer

An abandoned and neglected sheep engulfed by her heavy fleece has been rescued by RSPCA Victoria Inspectors from a property in Whiteheads Creek, prompting calls to sheep owners to ensure their animals are shorn coming into the warmer months to avoid serious welfare issues such as flystrike.

The sheep, now fondly named ‘Gloria’, was lugging a fleece weighing in at 21.7kg – approximately three years’ worth of wool. The fleece weighed in even heavier than that of ‘Ewenice’, a sheep who was saved last year in central Victoria with a fleece of 20kg.

RSPCA Victoria Inspectorate Team Leader Michelle Green said that while many people may not consider leaving the fleece on a sheep to be neglect, it can have significant animal welfare implications, with flystrike being of particular concern.

“Flystrike is a serious animal welfare issue and both preventing and treating for this condition is essential,” Inspector Green said.

“It is crucial that any owner or person in charge of a sheep ensures they monitor them regularly and undertake appropriate husbandry for their care, including shearing or crutching. It doesn’t matter if you depend on the sheep for income, are a hobby farmer or own one sheep to keep your lawns down, you have a responsibility to ensure their welfare is not compromised by overgrown fleece.

“As the warmer weather approaches, now is the perfect time to ensure sheep are shorn to avoid flystrike,” said Inspector Green.

Flystrike occurs in sheep during wet warmer months due to a continually wet fleece. The condition, primarily seen in domestic sheep, presents as an infection caused by flies feeding off the damaged skin irritated by urine, diarrhoea and a condition known as fleece rot. Flystrike often results in serious wounds, suffering and if left untreated, can be fatal.

In 2019, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations, a new regulation came into effect where a person must not allow the fleece of a sheep to grow to a length greater than twice the average annual growth for the breed of sheep or more than 250mm (whichever is shorter). This carries a penalty of $1,817.40.

Neglect continues to be a serious animal welfare concern in Victoria and forms the majority of cruelty reports made to RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectorate. Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, any person in charge of an animal is required to provide food, water and shelter, as well as appropriate husbandry and veterinary attention when required.

Unfortunately, cases like ‘Gloria’ are not uncommon. Last financial year RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectorate received 10,745 cruelty reports with over 1,160 reports relating to abandoned animals and more than 4,100 reports relating to husbandry issues.

Anyone who has concerns about the welfare of an animal is encouraged to make a report to RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectorate. All reports made to RSPCA Victoria’s Inspectorate must be lodged via the RSPCA Victoria website or by calling 9224 2222.

Thankfully, Gloria is feeling much happier and healthier after some TLC. She is now available for adoption at RSPCA Peninsula.

Images available via WeTransfer until 1 November 2021.

Gloria was rescued in October 2021 with a fleece weighing in at 21.7kg

Ewenice was rescued in September 2020, with a fleece weighing in at 20kg.

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