Article by Erin Janus| Wool is used to make socks, scarves, jackets, blankets, carpets and many other comfy and cozy things. But what most people don’t know is that wool comes from an incredibly cruel industry. If you prefer watching or listening over reading, scroll to the bottom of the article for my video. Here is what the wool industry doesn’t want you to know, and why you should never buy wool again:
1) Mutilation: standard practice
Nearly all lambs raised for wool endure painful procedures, including having their tails cut off, their ears hole-punched, and males are castrated (between 2-8 weeks of age)— almost always without any anesthesia. The most common method of castration is done by attaching a rubber ring to the lambs’ testicles for several weeks until circulation is completely lost.
The industry justifies docking the tails as a means of preventing the tails and wool around the hindquarters from accumulating excess fecal matter. 1 Docking is generally performed by workers with minimal training, and tails are often cut too short resulting in rectal prolapse (in which the tail muscles weaken causing the rectum to protrude from the anus.)
A humane alternative to removing the tails is ensuring proper care and hygiene of the sheep. But since sheep raised for the wool industry are often kept crowded together in flocks by the thousands, the cost of ensuring adequate hygiene is unrealistic for this profit-driven industry. While these procedures are most convenient and profitable for the industry, they are very painful and stressful for the animals.
2) Genetic manipulation: profit for the industry, detriment to the sheep
Naturally, sheep in the wild grow just the right amount of wool to protect them from cold temperatures throughout winter, and in the spring and summer they naturally shed their winter coats. However, sheep raised for wool production, like the Merino breed, have been selectively bred so they no longer shed their fleece. Not only does this cause great discomfort to the animals, but many wool-farmed sheep die of heat exhaustion during hot summer months from their extremely thick coats.
Sheep raised for wool production have also been selectively bred to grow unnaturally high amounts of wool, resulting in excess wrinkled and folded skin, all of which accrue moisture and bacteria over time. In a profit-preserving attempt to prevent the excess attraction of flies in their thick wool and skin folds which can lead to a condition called ‘flystrike’, lambs and sheep endure a violent, painful and bloody (yet standard wool industry procedure) known as mulesing.
3) Mulesing: bloody and brutal
The wool industry’s standard procedure to prevent potential maggot and fly infestations in the fleece and folds of skin on the sheep’s back-side (where feces, urine and moisture would accumulate due to lack of profit-damaging care and trimming) is known as mulesing. Mulesing is the brutal procedure of cutting off chunks of flesh from around a lamb’s buttocks and legs, which is almost always done without any anesthesia.
The sad irony of mulesing is that many sheep die from the procedure itself. Causes of death following mulesing include severe infection, tetanus, and blood loss. Mulesing also increases the risk of cancerous growths including vulva cancer in ewes (female sheep). 2
A humane solution to prevent maggot infestation and flystrike would be to regularly care for the sheep by providing them with sanitary living conditions, regular trimming, and making sure their backsides are in clean, proper condition. However, such care for thousands of sheep at a time would create a massive reduction in profits, which is why sheep are being mutilated instead.
4) Injury and death during sheering
Wool-sheering employees are often not payed per hour, but by volume (how much wool they can sheer per sheep, and/or in a short period of time). This encourages them to handle the sheep quickly, roughly and carelessly, leading to cuts, scrapes, open wounds, and even partial dismembering of ears, nipples, genitals and other sensitive body parts. Open wounds are generally stitched up by shearers with a needle and thread, and the sheep are rarely given any painkillers. Undercover investigations have shown this to be the case time and time again.
Sheep are prey animals who are terrified of being pinned down and forcefully restrained, but this is the quickest way for workers to sheer dozens, and sometimes hundreds of sheep per shift. Reports and investigations have also revealed that forceful restraint including kicking, stomping, punching and stepping on sheep to keep them from moving is common in sheering warehouses— leading to injuries, broken legs, and even death.
Another cause of death from sheering is that wool-farmed sheep are generally sheared in the spring, before they would naturally shed their winter coats. Because temperatures are often still cold, an estimated one million sheep die every year of exposure to the harsh temperatures.
5) Wool sheep are eventually exported to slaughter
When the sheeps’ wool production declines, they are almost always sold for slaughter— and often exported to countries with minimal slaughter regulations where the sheep are dismembered while fully conscious. 3
‘Spent’ wool-farmed sheep usually endure long, crowded travels via truck, plane or ship where they are kept in feedlots or holding pens until they are killed. Up to 3,000 sheep are packed on one export ship at a time. Many die of dehydration, starvation or injury before making it to slaughter, and lambs born during shipping are often trampled to death.
The higher the ‘quality’, the more cruel it may be
In some cases, the higher the quality of wool, the more cruel it may be. Cashmere wool for example, is known for its luxurious soft texture. Cashmere goats are often raised in crowded filthy stalls and sheared when they need their wool coats the most: in the winter. Exposed to the cold, the goats endure discomfort and become more susceptible to illnesses. In some cases, the goats are kept isolated in small pens to keep their expensive wool in its finest condition.
Angora wool is another luxury extra-soft wool which comes from female rabbits— who spend most of their lives isolated in small cages. Unable to move about and exercise, these rabbits develop sores and deformities. Male Angora rabbits do not make adequate wool, so the majority of them are slaughtered at birth. 3 To harvest the rabbits’ fur for wool, their fur is most commonly ripped out of their skin by workers’ hands without anesthesia causing excruciating pain.
Sheep are intelligent, social, inquisitive animals
What makes these daunting facts even more devastating is the fact that sheep are intelligent, social and inquisitive animals with good memories. They form lasting, affectionate friendships with flock mates and even people! Known for grazing with the same companions consistently, sheep often demonstrate distressed and despondent behavior when their preferred companions are missing from the flock. 4
One study by British scientists from the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, England found that sheep have the incredible ability to remember and recognize faces, “We know that sheep can not only recognize other sheep, they can remember some faces of sheep for up to two years,” said Keith Kendrick, a professor and neuroscientist at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, England who authored the study published in the journal Nature. 5
The environmental impact of wool farming
As if the cruelty and violence isn’t enough, wool farming is inefficient and wasteful. In fact, it is one of the least environmentally friendly ways of producing clothing material. As Dan Mims, CEO of The Ethical Man says, “[the hundreds of millions of sheep] bred into existence for wool production require vast amounts of land and water, both to house and hydrate the sheep, and to cultivate the massive amount of plant food required to feed them.” Sheep raised for wool also produce astronomical amounts of excrement and bodily waste— leading to contamination of local environments, especially streams, groundwater and air pollution from methane and carbon dioxide emissions.
In an attempt to prevent and/or treat lice, tick and mite infestations in the thick wool, some wool-farming operations plunge their sheep in a toxic solution of pesticides. These chemicals are not only hazardous to the environment, but harmful to the sheep and leave toxic residues that can remain in the wool.
Wool farming operations kill native coyotes and kangaroos, deem them as ‘pests’
Sheep are non-native to Australia (the leading wool producer in the world), which makes them a particular threat to local ecosystems. Many landowners of Australian wool-farming operations consider native animals such as kangaroos to be “pests,” as they compete with the sheep for land and resources like grass, foliage and water. As a result, thousands of kangaroos are purposely killed by ranchers every year. And while there are certain laws governing the killing of kangaroos, on their own private property, ranchers can do whatever they want to the animals without fear of repercussions.
In the U.S., coyotes are vilified not only for competing for natural resources, but for preying upon livestock including wool-farmed sheep. As a result, millions of coyotes are killed every year by ranchers and the federal government via shooting or using leg-hold or snare traps. The traps also routinely injure and kill non-target species, leading to cruelty for local wild animals and disruption of natural ecosystems. 6
And while there are humane ways of protecting the sheep from local wildlife, such as predator-proof fencing— such measures are very costly and thus cut a chunk into profits.
Is wool worth it?
In conclusion, wool production is responsible for just as much pain, suffering and cruelty as the fur industry. There are so many cruelty-free and comfy, cozy materials to choose from. From blankets, to quality sweaters, the extra research and shopping around is absolutely worth it. Wool is not only un-necessary for warm, comfortable clothing, but it is environmentally destructive and cruel. And while it may be sweet that your best friend or grandmother buys you a comfy Merino wool sweater every year, doing what is right and speaking up for the helpless is our duty as human beings. Please share this article or video with whoever you can.
Say no to wool! Do not purchase anything made of the following materials:
X Anything labeled ‘wool’
Cruelty-free alternatives to wool:
✓ Tencel/Lyocell— breathable, durable, and biodegradable— is one of the newest cruelty-free wool substitutes
✓ Polartec Wind Pro— made primarily from recycled plastic soda bottles—is a high-density fleece with four times the wind resistance of wool that also wicks away moisture
✓ PolarGuard is an insulating material made of continuous synthetic fibers. It retains its loft and insulating properties when wet. It is also non-allergenic, mildew-resistant, machine washable and drier-friendly
✓ Thinsulate is a high quality synthetic insulation often used to insulate jackets, gloves and winter boots
✓ GoreTex is a waterproof, windproof, breathable and lightweight synthetic fabric for all-weather use
✓ Cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece, synthetic shearling, microfiber, acrylic yarn, rayon, linen, viscose, modal, soysilk, bamboo, hemp are all cruelty-free vegan materials
✓ Vatue Couture makes fully vegan designer coats that are stylish and dedicated to cruelty-free fashion
The more helpless the creature, the more that it is entitled to protection by man from the cruelty of man. —Mahatma Gandhi
My name is Erin. I’m a passionate vegan, YouTuber, journalist and aspiring musician. Thank you for educating yourself on this issue. Please share this article or video with family, friends, your classroom and on social media. You can connect with me on facebook, instagram, twitter, youtube and join my mailing list here.
kzzinsky.com, theethicalman.com, veganpeace.com, gentleworld.org, www.sheep101.info, animalsaustralia.org, thenazareneway.com