photo by Viva! www.viva.org.uk

If wool doesn’t come from dead animals, why do some vegetarians and vegans refuse to wear wool clothes? Don’t sheep need to be shorn to remove their excess wool?

A: Most people don’t realize that the wool industry involves exploitation of sheep and a lot of cruelty. If you think it’s less cruel than leather or fur production, you are wrong.

As you know, wild sheep do not need our help. When winter is over, they shed their coat to stay cool in the summer; then grow it again, just enough to be warm during colder months.

Selectively bred sheep, like Australian Merinos, have more wrinkly skin, which means more wool per animal. They grow about 30% more wool than wild sheep. Because of this unnatural amount of hair the sheep are forced to wear on their bodies, they often die in pain of heat exhaustion. Sometimes they suffer for many days before dying.

What’s more, attracted by moisture, flies and other bugs lay eggs in the folds of the sheep’s wrinkled skin – their maggots can actually eat the animals alive! To prevent this from happening, ranchers perform a barbaric operation called “mulesing” – large strips of skin and flesh are cut off from the lamb’s back and buttocks, to produce a scar that is free of wool. Usually, the sheep’s tails are cut off and the male sheep are castrated. Mulesing is performed without anaesthetics.

Many of the mutilated animals receive painful infections and die.

Follow this link to see a clip about mulesing. Warning: Some viewers may find the content disturbing.

Other horrific injuries often occur because the shearers are not paid by the hour, but per sheep. They therefore try to shear as many animals in the shortest time possible and may not care about their metal clippers cutting the animal’s wrinkled skin.

Sheep are usually sheared before the time they would naturally shed, because then the wool is of the best quality. That means the sheep are exposed to cold and many of them get ill and die.

Many sheep, including pregnant females, suffer from malnutrition, especially if they are carrying more than one lamb. These are not able to give birth to healthy babies. Very often, both the mother and the lamb cannot survive labour.

When the sheep get older and can’t produce enough high-quality wool anymore, they are destined for slaughter. The procedure is far from sheep-friendly. According to Animal Protection League of New Jersey, “they are crowded onto multilevel ships and shipped worldwide to countries where animal welfare standards are non-existent. Many don’t even survive the trip. If they do, they are dragged off the ships, loaded onto trucks, pulled by their ears and legs to unregulated slaughterhouses, where their throats are slit, often while fully conscious.”

Sheep are beautiful animals that are cruelly treated during the whole of their miserable lives.

Wool is not necessary for us to survive. Have a look at these for alternatives to wool clothing.

Having the facts about wool industry in your mind, remember that lanolin – the wax that covers wool to protect sheep from cold and wet weather – is used in human personal care and washing products and is not cruelty-free either.

Additional resources:

http://www.thebigcoverup.org.uk/wool/

http://www.savethesheep.org/animals.asp

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