Extreme weather conditions are increasing the twin risks of internal parasites and fly strike on sheep.
This could help sheep breeders develop fly-resistant flocks, which would improve animal welfare and productivity.
The discovery was recently published in Medical and Veterinary Entomology.
The study is led by The University of Western Australia with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Western Australia.
Professor Phil Vercoe, from the UWA Institute of Agriculture and UWA School of Agriculture and Environment, says the findings may help to prevent flystrike, a disease caused by blowflies and one that poses significant health risks to sheep.
“This research is a step towards developing more clean, green and ethical approaches to preventing flystrike.
“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 resistant to flystrike.”
This would improve animal welfare and productivity and address the cost of flystrike, estimated to cost the Australian sheep industry $280 million annually.
Dr Johan Greeff, at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, says 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 or not.