The use of high-energy electrons for permanently depilating areas of sheep skin was evaluated. The most effective dose of electrons for depilation was 17.5Gy. Histological changes in skin treated at this dose were examined in one sheep over 18 months and in 5 sheep over 89 d. Effects of treatment on bodyweight gains and fleece growth were examined by comparing the productivity of a further 5 sheep treated on the breech with high-energy electrons, with that of conventionally mulesed sheep (n = 5) and untreated controls (n = 5). Electron treatment resulted in immediate death of cells in the germinative region of the wool follicle bulbs. Within 10 d of treatment the treated areas were completely depilated. Wool follicle shafts in the treated areas regressed rapidly towards the epidermis and remained quiescent for the whole trial (89 d). A sheep treated 18 months previously has remained largely depilated, although a few sparse fibres are present. Epidermal acanthosis and orthokeratosis were present at 26 d after treatment. The thickened stratum corneum then sloughed off, but the epidermis remained acanthotic for the entire trial. Sweat glands and most sebaceous glands were destroyed by the treatment and were replaced by fibrotic, avascular tissue in the dermis. In all other respects the external appearance of the electron-treated breech was similar to that of mulesed sheep. There were no apparent side-effects of treatment. Neither mulesing nor electron treatment altered weight gains or fleece growth rates.
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