Wool is a special type of hair that is common to sheeps and some other animals, including llamas, alpacas, vicuna, goats and rabbits. Obtaining wool harms animals, and sometimes causes injuries or illnesses that kill them.
Wool is one of many products that is obtained through the exploitation of animals. In fact, the same animals that are used for wool production are also exploited for other purposes. This text will focus on the harms animals suffer for the production of wool, but you can check our text on the exploitation of sheep and goats to see other ways these animals are harmed.
For thousands of years, sheeps have been bred for certain characteristics. One of the most noteworthy characteristics bred into sheeps is that of wrinkled skin, which produces more wool. The extra skin and wool causes them to sweat more, which increases the risk of illnesses and infections.
When the exploitation of the sheeps is no longer profitable, it is common for them to be sent to a slaughterhouse, where their flesh is used for dog and cat food.
Shortly after birth, the ears of lambs are pierced for identification tags, and their tails are cut. A large number of males are castrated without anesthesia. For castration, either a knife or cutting ring is used.
Some of the lambs are sent to slaughter so their flesh can be sold as food. Females are used as breeding machines so the cycle of exploitation can continue. There are numerous varieties of wool, including alpaca, mohair, angora and astrakhan. Wool is commonly used in pants, coats and suits. There are a variety of vegan fabrics that can be used as an alternative to wool such as cotton and synthetic fabrics like cotton fleece, corduroy, polyester and goretex.
Many sheep are victims of diseases, parasites and predators. The most common internal parasites are worms, which are ingested by eating grass and incubate inside the sheep. External parasites include: lice, louse flies (Hippoboscidae), and nose flies (Gasterophilus haemorrhoidalis).
One infection suffered by sheeps is called fly-strike, and is caused by worms that live on their skin. This has led to a practice of shearing made in several countries called mulesing. Mulesing is the process of tearing flesh from the buttocks with pruning shears, creating an area of bare, scarred skin in which worms cannot lay eggs.
There are organizations of farmers and veterinarians who advocate mulesing, claiming it is the only effective way to eliminate fly-strike. Although this is not true, this practice should not be acceptable even if it were the only way to avoid fly-strike. Avoiding such sickness in sheeps should not be achieved through mutilation, but rather through consumers ending their consumption of wool and meat.
Sheeps also face threats from predation. While sheeps have a greater capacity than many other herbivores to defend themselves, many may die after surviving an attack, due to injuries or shock. Their predators are mainly sheep canids (including domestic dogs) and, to a lesser extent, cats, bears, birds of prey, ravens and wild boars.1
In order to prevent predation of sheep, farmers employ various methods which may include using poisons, traps and weapons to kill predators. Another way to prevent predation is the use of animals such as dogs and, to a lesser extent, donkeys and llamas, which makes these animals victims to wool consumption as well.2
The most common way of shearing sheeps is using powered shears similar to clippers, although scissors are sometimes still used. A non-mechanical method has also been developed for shearing, which involves injecting a protein that creates a natural barrier in the wool fibers. A week after the injection, the wool can be removed by hand.
Shearing is done competitively in several countries such as Australia, Ireland, UK, South Africa, and New Zealand. The competition with the most participants takes place in Wairarapa (New Zealand).3 The speed with which shearing is performed during competition and the transportation of sheep to these events both increase the suffering of these animals.
When it is economically convenient to do so, sheeps used for wool are sent to a slaughterhouse where they will be killed.
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