A Word About Wool
“What’s the deal with vegans and wool? Sheep need to be shorn anyway, so what’s the problem?”
Sheep are gentle, intelligent, inquisitive animals with an incredible sense of compassion. They form close friendships and have remarkable facial recognition not just within their own species, but ours, too. They also have long memories. Susie Coston, national shelter director at Farm Sanctuary, has called sheep “the kindest animal.”
They are also deeply misunderstood by most humans. We refer to people as sheep when we see them behaving in a way that suggests they have no mind of their own — we call that “a herd mentality.” Yes, sheep are herd animals, but we could take lessons from them. What we see as mindless behaviour is in fact generous and cooperative. Every sheep in the flock is not out for herself. Herd animals cooperate amongst themselves for the greater good. They draw together for protection against predators, with the strongest on the outside to face the risk. Four sheep do not find a new field of clover and keep it to themselves; they share it with the rest of the flock.
The problem vegans have with wool is this: like other farmed animals, the overwhelming majority of sheep are not raised in an idyllic, pastoral environment. Understand that when you drive past a farm and see a couple of dozen sheep grazing in peace on a lush hillside, what you’re seeing is an anomaly. You will never see most of the world’s sheep raised for wool, because just like other farmed animals, they are raised in massive, windowless sheds with no room to move, the air rank with the smell of their own waste, standing in their own feces, developing hoof rot while their neglected hooves become deformed and eventually hobble them.
In Australia, where 25% of the world’s wool comes from, sheep farmers engage in a practice called “mulesing” (illegal in Canada), in which large chunks of skin are carved out from sheeps’ hindquarters, without anesthetic or pain relief. (This is a misguided attempt to prevent flystrike, a parasitic infestation.)
Young sheep and lambs especially sometimes die from exposure after being shorn prematurely. Like other farmed animals, they also suffer castration and tail-docking with no anesthetic.
Shearing itself is often barbaric. Shearers are paid by volume so they work as quickly as possible. They shear the sheep (with electric or hand blades) as close to the skin as they can, often resulting in cuts and larger wounds. Udders, ears and penises are sometimes accidentally amputated. One eye-witness to a PETA investigation stated:
“I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or their fists until the sheep’s nose bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off.”
So the “deal” with wool is that like every other animal product used by humans, terrible cruelty and disregard for the animal is involved. Now you know.