Sheeps and goats and their children, lambs and kids, are exploited for several different purposes. They are killed so they can be eaten (particularly lambs), kept for their wool and milk, and their skin is also used to produce leather. Because a profit can be made from selling them, the consumption of these products results in more and more sheeps and goats being bred, made to suffer and killed.
In the article on the exploitation of animals for the production of clothing we explain how one of the main ways in which animals are used for this purpose is the raising of animals for wool. In the section on wool, which complements this text, many of the ways in which these animals are harmed are explained. This text will deal more specifically with other features of the exploitation of goats, sheeps, kids and lambs that are not particularly related to how they are used for wool production, but rather for other purposes such as meat and leather production.
How sheeps and goats are farmed
The ways these animals are farmed can be grouped into three different types.
- Extensive: the animals spend the day grazing under the control of a shepherd, and then come back to the fold to spend the night. The folds are usually designed so tractors can get in in order to make the removal of their excrement easier. As a result, the folds can get cold, and for economic purposes they need not be comfortable because the animals will survive even if they live in discomfort.
- Semi-extensive: the animals go out to graze during the day when the weather is good and there is enough food for them outside. They spend the rest of the time in the fold and are fed there with fodder.
- Intensive: the animals spend their entire lives in the fold and are fed with fodder there.
Ewes may give birth to lambs once or twice every year, since their gestation lasts (in the case both of sheeps and goats) five months. Female sheeps can start to reproduce when they are one year old, and goats when they are only nine months old. Many lambs are not allowed to live with their mothers; instead, they are sent to be killed and eaten. This normally happens shortly after birth, inflicting a significant amount of trauma on both the ewe and the lamb.
At around three months old, lambs who survive because they are to be used to produce wool suffer very painful mutilation. They are marked on their ears, castrated and tail docked. Tail docking occurs in order to prevent them from getting parasites.
In addition, a large number of lambs die in their youth. One reason for this is weather conditions. Adult goats and sheeps are resistant to cold (especially sheeps), but young kids and lambs are not, and this is one of the main causes of mortality among them. This happens in particular if the food they receive is not of good quality or is scarce.
Dying from lack of food can happen more easily than it would seem due to the fact that these animals live in large flocks and don’t receive individual attention. In fact, this is the main reason for lamb mortality in Australia (which produces around a quarter of all wool in the world).
Many of us grew up with idealized images of shepherds as people who lovingly take care of animals. In actuality, shepherds are using animals as resources, and take care of them so they can be exploited efficiently to meet the demand for products made from their bodies. The shepherds may care about the animals to some extent, but they are in the animal exploitation business, so the wellbeing of the animals is secondary to their economic interests.
Goats, sheeps, kids and lambs do not receive water or food on the journey to the slaughterhouse. This is done so that the work of the driver is easier, and he doesn’t have to clean up as much excrement. However, this obviously causes much suffering to the animals.
Finally, they are sent to their deaths. The slaughterhouse is a stressful and often terrifying experience for them as they await their deaths.1 Then they suffer a painful slaughter that deprives them of their lives.
Sheeps don’t tend to express their emotions when they are suffering like other animals do (for example, pigs). This is particularly visible in places such as slaughterhouses. This is due to evolutionary causes. Sheeps are herbivores attacked by predators who select their victims. Predators attack those who look weak or ill. As a result, sheeps have been selected over generations by predators. Those who tended not to show their suffering were more likely to survive. But this doesn’t mean they don’t suffer. They do, just as much as other animals. The only difference is that we haven’t yet learned to fully recognize their emotions.2
From all this we can conclude that the use of sheeps and goats as resources is terribly harmful to them not only for the reasons explained in the section on wool production, but also when they are used for other purposes.
Anzuino, K.; Bell, N. J.; Bazeley, K. & Nicol, C. J. (2010) “Assessment of welfare on 24 commercial UK dairy goat farms based on direct observations”, Veterinary Record, 16, pp. 774-780.
Cockram, M. S. (2004) “A review of behavioural and physiological responses of sheep to stressors to identify potential behavioural signs of distress”, Animal Welfare, 13, pp. 283-291.
Conington, J.; Collins, J. & Dwyer, C. (2010) “Selection for easier managed sheep”, Animal Welfare, 19, pp. 83-92.
Dwyer, C.M. (2009) “Welfare of sheep: Providing for welfare in an extensive environment”, Small Ruminant Research, 86, pp. 14-21.
Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) (1994) Report on the welfare of sheep, London: MAFF Publications [accesed on 14 April 2013].
Fitzpatrick, J.; Scott, M. & Nolan, A. (2006) “Assessment of pain and welfare in sheep”, Small Ruminant Research, 62, pp. 55-61.
Forkman, B.; Boissy, A.; Meunier-Salaün, M.-C.; Canali, E. & Jones, R. B. (2007) “A critical review of fear tests used on cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry and horses”, Physiology and Behavior, 92, pp. 340-374.
French, N.P.; Wall, R. & Morgan, K.L. (1994) “Lamb tail docking: a controlled field study of the effects of tail amputation on health and productivity”, Veterinary Record, 134, pp. 463-467.
Harwood, D. (2006) Goat health and welfare: A veterinary guide, Marlborough: Crowood.
Lua, C.D.; Gangyib, X. & Kawasc, J.R. (2010) “Organic goat production, processing and marketing: Opportunities, challenges and outlook”, Small Ruminant Research, 89, pp. 102-109.
Mazurek, M.; Marie, M. & Desor, D. (2007) “Potential animal-centred indicators of dairy goat welfare”, Animal Welfare, 16, pp. 161-164.
Miranda de la Lama, G. C. & Mattiello, S. (2010) “The importance of social behaviour for goat welfare in livestock farming”, Small Ruminant Research, 90, pp. 1-10.
Parrott, R. F.; Lloyd, D. M.; Brown, D. (1999) “Transport stress and exercise hyperthermia recorded in sheep by radiotelemetry”, Animal Welfare, 8, pp. 27-34.
Rushen, J. (1986a) “Aversion of sheep for handling treatments: paired-choice studies”, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 16, pp. 363-370.
Rushen, J. (1986b) “Aversion of sheep to electro-immobilisation and mechanical restraint”, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 15, pp. 315-324.
Rushen, J. & Congdon, P. (1987) “Electro-immobilisation of sheep may not reduce the aversiveness of a painful treatment”, Veterinary Record, 120, pp. 37-38.
1 Anil, M. H.; Preston, J.;McKinstry, L.; Rodwayl, R. G.; Brown, S. N. (1996) “An assessment of stress caused in sheep by watching slaughter of other sheep”, Animal Welfare, 5, pp. 435-441.
2 Veissier, I.; Boissy, A.; Désiré, L. & Greiveldinger, L. (2009) “Animals’ emotions: Studies in sheep using appraisal theories”, Animal Welfare, 18, pp. 347-354.