What’s wrong with wool you ask?
“Well on the surface, it appears that wool is a benign product because, at least theoretically it can be obtained without harming the sheep. However upon a closer inspection you’ll find the wool industry is actually very similar to the exploitative egg and dairy industries. While animals such as egg laying hens, dairy cows and wool bearing sheep are not immediately killed to procure their saleable products, the suffer tremendously for years prior to their ultimate and unavoidable slaughter.” – Veg Source
Wool can come from either sheep or goats and sometimes rabbits. It may be called wool, mohair, pashmina or cashmere. Unfortunately it is an industry that is not often discussed or exposed for what it is. Many people do not know that the sheep farming industry involves abuse, pain and suffering. The animals are often treated inhumanely and are made to undergo severe amounts of pain and brutality. Lambs ears are punched, their tails cut off and the males castrated all without anesthesia within the first few weeks of their lives. Male lambs are castrated when they are between 2 and 8 weeks old, either by making an incision and cutting their testicles out. The other option is to use a rubber ring to cut off the blood supply to the testes which is one of the most painful and barbaric practices of castration. Every single year, hundreds of lambs die before the age of 8 weeks from exposure or starvation. Many mature sheep die every year from disease, lack of shelter, and neglect.
We are told that shearing a sheep is a humane practice because the sheep would otherwise be burdened with kilograms of excess wool. This of course is a myth. Sheep grow enough wool to cover, insulate and protect themselves. It is only through human involvement that the wool grows faster because it is constantly being sheared off. Sheep are sheared each spring, after lambing, just before they would naturally shed their winter coats. Timing is considered critical. Shearing too late means loss of wool. In the rush, many sheep die from exposure after premature shearing. Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without regard for the welfare of the sheep.
In Australia there is a process called “mulesing” whereby they force live sheep onto their backs, restrain their legs between metal bars, and without any painkillers whatsoever, huge strips of flesh are carved off the backs of unanesthetized lambs’ legs and around the tail area. This is done to cause smooth, scarred skin that can’t harbor fly eggs. Ironically, the exposed, bloody wounds themselves often get flystrike (an infection of maggots under the skin) before they heal.
Unfortunately for the sheep, this is not the only abuse they will experience. When sheep age and their wool production declines, they are of no use to wool farmers and so are discarded and transported for slaughter. This results in the cruel live export of 6.5 million sheep every year from Australia to the Middle East and North Africa, where sheep are crammed aboard multi tiered open-deck ships. The conditions that they have to endure are atrocious. They are often left standing in their own urine and fecal matter cramped together in temperatures exceeding 37.8 C. Many sheep will leave the ship ill and infected and are still sold to be slaughtered.
The wool industry is also detrimental for our environment. Manure releases vast amounts of methane which heavily contribute to greenhouse gases and global warming. Fecal matter pollutes the water systems and the sheep cause soil erosion. Sheep are ‘dipped’ into toxic chemicals to ‘protect’ them from parasites which are poisonous and harmful for both the sheep and the environment.
Luckily there are many alternatives for wool for those of us who don’t want to support the sheep farming industry. Cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece, synthetic shearling, acrylic and hemp are all alternatives to wool that are cheaper and easier to care for.