Within weeks of birth, lambs’ ears are hole-punched, and the males are castrated without anesthetics. Extremely high rates of mortality are considered normal on Australian wool farms. 20 to 40 percent of lambs die before the age of 8 weeks, and 8 million mature sheep die every year from disease, exposure, or neglect. Australian ranchers mainly raise Merino sheep, who are not native to Australia and therefore do not fair well in the harsh conditions. Merinos are bred to have extremely wrinkly skin (which allows for more wool). This unnatural overload of wool causes animals to die of heat exhaustion during summers. The wrinkles collect moisture, which attracts flies and results in maggot infestation known as “flystrike.” Maggots can literally eat sheep alive, so in order to reduce flystrike, ranchers perform a crude operation known as “mulesing.” Mulesing involves carving wide strips of skin from around the lambs’ tails to produce smooth scars that won’t harbor fly larvae. Tail docking (cutting off the sheeps’ tails) is often done in conjunction with mulesing to reduce feces and urine stains on the wool. Both mutilations are currently performed without the use of anesthesia; however, a new drug called Tri-Solfen is being introduced to reduce pain during mulesing. Unfortunately, the maker of the drug, Bayer, tests the product and many of its other products on animals. Ironically, because of the large bloody wounds caused by mulesing and tail docking, sheep often get flystrike before they heal. According to Australian Law Reform chairperson M.D. Kirby, each year, Australian sheep endure more than 50 million operations, such as mulesing and tooth-grinding, that would constitute animal cruelty if performed on dogs or cats. Many people believe that shearing brings relief to animals that would otherwise be too hot. This is true if done in the summer, but in order to avoid losing any wool, ranchers shear sheep before they would naturally shed their winter coats, resulting in many sheep deaths from exposure to the cold. When sheep are no longer profitable for wool production, they are slaughtered. They are exported in 14-tiered ships from Australia to the Middle East, a three- to six-week trip during which up to 18 percent of the animals die from the cramped and filthy conditions. Millions of sheep endure this transport, after which they are ritually slaughtered while fully conscious, per year. Sheep exploited for wool in the U.S. also suffer from inhumane handling and transportation, and they too often face cruel ritual slaughter when they are no longer profitable to the wool industry. Sheep raised in the U.S. do not suffer the agony of live export to the Middle East, but they do suffer the same cruelties of wool production, including painful mutilations that are often done with little or no anesthesia. Most U.S.-raised sheep and lambs are either raised on factory farms, where they spend their entire lives in filthy, manure-filled warehouses, or they are raised “on the range” without any shelter from extreme weather conditions. Thousands of lambs and sheep die every year from harsh conditions. Thousands more die from transportation, during which sheep are severely overcrowded onto trucks. The non-profit organization Farm Sanctuary has documented dozens of cases of “downed” sheep at auctions and stockyards. Sheep and lambs too weak to even stand are often abandoned on “dead piles” and left to die slowly from neglect. After a lifetime of producing wool, sheep are sent to slaughter. The U.S. slaughters 3 million sheep every year.
Alternatives to Wool…
There are many great alternatives to wool. Warm and fashionable sweaters made from cotton, fleece, acrylic, and ramie are readily available. For hiking or cold weather, try Patagonia Capaline or other similar synthetic long underwear, gloves, socks, blankets, etc. Knit polyester, acrylic, or fleece can easily replace wool in hats and beanies. Gore-Tex or other water-resistant synthetics work well in place of wool pants. Polyester, rayon, linen, microfiber, and other synthetics can replace wool suits, sport coats, and blazers.
Animal Action Network
A non-profit Colorado Group Working for Compassion