Researchers from the University of Western Australia have identified compounds in Merino sheep wool that are attractive to Australian blowflies.
The discovery could help breeders develop fly-resistant flocks of sheep, which will improve animal welfare and productivity.
Professor Phil Vercoe from the UWA Institute of Agriculture and UWA School of Agriculture and Environment said the findings could help to prevent flystrike, a distressing disease caused by blowflies which poses a significant health risk to sheep.
“This research is a step in the right direction towards the development of more clean, green and ethical approaches to preventing flystrike,” Professor Vercoe said.
“If future studies find that the wool odour is inherited, then the compounds we’ve identified could lead to a more effective way to breed sheep that are resistant to flystrike.”
Flystrike is estimated to cost the agriculture industry $280 million annually.
The discovery could lead to a simple test, based on the presence of certain volatile compounds in sheep’s wool that determines whether flies will be attracted to the sheep.
As demonstrated in the study, Merino sheep have individual differences in the chemical content of their wool. Fly-attractive wool contains volatile compounds that aren’t found in non-attractive wool.