Animals Used for Wool
Many people have never considered the impact that creating wool garments has on the animals who produce the fleece. Sheep are gentle individuals who, like all animals, feel pain, fear and loneliness. But the wool industry treats them as nothing more than wool-producing machines, given little in the way of respect or compassion.
When lambs are just a few weeks old, their ears are hole-punched, their tails are cut off and males are castrated. Farmers use knives, hot irons or tight clamps to sever parts of the animals’ bodies, often without painkillers.
Hundreds of thousands of lambs die of exposure or starvation before they’re 8 weeks old – in the UK, as many as 15 per cent of lambs do not survive infancy. But those who do survive are hardly lucky. From the ordeal of the shearing shed to the hot summer months when sheep often collapse from heat exhaustion because of their unnaturally heavy wool, these animals lead harsh and difficult lives.
Even more shocking is the widespread practice of “mulesing” in Australia, one of the world’s biggest wool producers. Farmers mutilate sheep by cutting off large chunks of their skin and flesh in a misguided attempt to stop flystrike (a condition that occurs when flies lay eggs in sheep’s skin). But unlike the humane alternatives, this gruesome procedure doesn’t even work – many mulesed sheep still die from infection or flystrike.
Patty Mark / ALV.org.au
More Than a Close Shave
The shearing process is usually a violent and terrifying experience for sheep. Workers are generally paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages them to work as quickly as possible – shearing as many as 200 sheep a day – and leads to rough handling and frequent injuries to the animals. Sheep are often deprived of food and water for 24 hours before they’re sheared so they’ll put up less resistance.
In 2014, PETA US went undercover in shearing sheds across Australia and the US and found sickening mistreatment of sheep. The abuses documented included workers kicking, punching and stamping on sheep’s heads, jabbing them in the face with sharp metal clippers and leaving huge gashes on their bodies that were later crudely sewn up with a needle and thread – and no painkillers whatsoever. One shearer even twisted a sheep’s head so forcibly that he broke her neck.
In nature, sheep grow only the amount of wool that they need to keep warm, and they naturally shed some of their fleece each year. Only sheep such as merino who have been selectively bred by the wool industry to grow unnaturally heavy fleeces suffer if they’re not shorn each year.
Live Export: A Terrifying Way to Die
As sheep get older, the volume of wool they produce declines. However, because of the live-export industry, their suffering is not over. Millions of sheep end up being sent to the Middle East on crowded ships – a horrific journey that can last for weeks – often without sufficient food and water. If they don’t die on the way, they are then hauled off to (often unregulated) abattoirs, where their throats are slit while they’re still conscious.
What You Can Do
It’s easy to distance yourself from this cruel and bloody industry. Plenty of durable, stylish and warm fabrics are available that aren’t made from wool. Save a sheep – don’t buy wool.
Goats, antelopes, alpaca and rabbits are also victims of the clothing industry, so please clear your closet of cashmere, mohair, angora and all other products stolen off animals’ backs.
- A sheep can recognise the faces of at least 50 other sheep and can remember 50 images for up to two years.
- Sheep “dip” (a commonly used insecticide/fungicide) is highly toxic and presents a major pollution risk. For example, in 1995, it killed 1,200 fish in Scotland after a farmer dumped it into a stream.
- H&M, Adidas, UNIQLO and Perry Ellis are just some of the companies that have pledged not to use wool from lambs who have been mulesed.
- Methane emissions, mainly from sheep, make up more than 90 per cent of New Zealand’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
- Environmentalists suggest that sheep farming in the UK has led to widespread destruction of the natural ecosystem, causing problems such as soil erosion and flooding.