Why not wool?

I’ve never liked the feel of wool next to my skin. It’s too itchy! But I couldn’t understand why vegans didn’t wear it. Sheep need to be shorn, right? And unlike fur, they’re not killed for their wool. Or are they?

A few years ago, after researching about wool, I changed my stance. Wool isn’t welcome in my home.

bleating sheep

Wild sheep grow only enough wool to keep warm (and they can shed it). Domesticated sheep have been bred for their wooly coats and do require shearing. Often, sheep who aren’t shorn before the weather is too hot will die of heat exhaustion. And if they’re shorn too early, they’ll die from exposure. About a million sheep a year die this way.

Sheep, like merinos, are bred to have lots of wrinkly skin (more area to grow wool on). As a result of their wrinkles, they suffer from skin infections. Flies lay eggs in their folds and maggots literally eat the sheep alive. Ranchers have found a way to combat this: mulesing, a process where large strips of flesh are cut off the sheep’s backsides. About 100 million sheep have this process done to them every year–without anesthetic!

Also performed without painkillers: castration, dehorning and tail docking.

Sheep are shorn by laborers who are paid by volume, not the hour. And in their hurry to work quickly, sheep are often rough-handled and injured. And when sheep stop producing as much wool as ranchers need to keep profits up, the sheep are killed for their flesh. In Australia, sheep are often shipped alive to the Middle East so they can be sold and butchered there. Many don’t even survive the cramped, long journey by sea.

In theory, one can raise a few sheep and sheer them humanely. In reality, the scale of operations–farms with hundreds of thousands of sheep–means there isn’t time or resources to care for the sheep. Dead sheep are a cost of doing business. It’s great that sheep aren’t usually confined to factory farm, like pigs, chickens and cows, but they roam land in habitats that they aren’t native to and often destroy habitat for native species. In Australia, some indigenous species are becoming endangered as a result of sheep grazing.

Don’t get fleeced! Whether for carpets or clothing, skip the wool (which is pricy, shrinks, attracts moths, retains odors and isn’t hypoallergenic) and try humane alternatives:

  • Cottonsheep
  • Bamboo
  • Hemp
  • Tencel (biodegradable)
  • PolarTec (made from recycled plastic)
  • Poly fleece
  • Synthetic shearling
  • Rayon
  • Linen

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