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Veganism: What's Wrong with Wool?

Updated on November 23, 2014

The Industry Pulls the Wool Over Our Eyes

Although wool is portrayed as being a wholesome, natural material, its production entails cruel and inhumane practices in which sheep are horribly mistreated. The wool industry, like others that rely on the exploitation of animals, seeks to maximize profits and is willing to sacrifice the animals' well-being in that endeavor.

As examples of how the wool industry puts profit ahead of the humane treatment of sheep, the tails of lambs are docked - removed with a knife - in order to increase the amount of profitable wool produced by the sheep. This is done without anesthesia, as is the castration of male sheep, which is achieved using a rubber ring to slowly cut off the blood supply to the testicles.

While I'm not a fan of shocking people with gory details, I do believe it's important for us as consumers to understand how products are created or procured so that we can make educated decisions about what to purchase or not purchase. And so I would like to provide some information about the wool industry for you to consider.

Shorn sheep
Shorn sheep | Source


A Painful Practice

Sheep are generally shorn in early spring in order to maximize the amount of high-quality wool that can be taken from them. Without their warm coats, the sheep are left vulnerable to cold weather, which has not entirely passed when shearing occurs. The month following shearing is a time of high mortality for sheep, since the weather can be quite changeable in early spring.

Delaying shearing until the weather is warm is not without consequence to the sheep. Those sheep that are shorn in the summer tend to get sunburned, since their bare skin is exposed.

Sheep being shorn
Sheep being shorn | Source


The industry standard in hiring people to shear sheep is to pay them by the "piece" or by volume, rather than by the hour. This means that speed is the primary motivation for the workers, since the faster they shear the more they get paid.

This system, which provides no incentive to treat the sheep with care, encourages the shearers to handle the sheep roughly, pinning them down to remove their wool as quickly as possible.

Sheep are routinely cut and otherwise injured during this process.

Products Made Without Wool

The UnWool Blanket
The UnWool Blanket

There are plenty of alternatives to wool products available, such as this "UnWool" blanket and non-wool sweaters.

Mulesing. The tail of this sheep has also been docked. Both procedures are done without anesthetic.
Mulesing. The tail of this sheep has also been docked. Both procedures are done without anesthetic. | Source


One particularly grizzly practice is committed against approximately 80% of merino sheep and 45% of other breeds in Australia, which supplies nearly one-third of the world's wool.

Mulesing is a procedure in which strips of skin are cut off the hindquarters of four-week-old lambs. This is done without anesthetic and obviously results in acute pain for the lambs. In fact, a good number of animals die following mulesing every year.

The purpose of mulesing is to prevent flies from burrowing into unnaturally large folds of skin on the sheep. The extra folds in the skin have been selectively bred into the sheep to increase wool production. Flies can get into these folds and then lay eggs; when the resulting maggots hatch, they eat the sheep alive, which is extremely painful for the sheep and unprofitable for the wool farmers.


The Connection Between Wool and Meat

As with dairy cows whose milk production diminishes or hens who stop laying enough eggs, once the quality or quantity of wool produced by sheep declines, they are sent to the slaughterhouse.

As with all other animals being sent for slaughter, sheep are transported violently and without food or water. They are killed in barbaric conditions, their bodies used for cheaper meat products and other purposes. In this way, wool production is, in the end, a direct part of the meat industry.

Two of the categories of wool are shorn, which means that wool is taken annually from the sheep, and pulled, which is removed at the time of slaughter. Because most sheep raised in the United States are raised specifically for meat rather than wool, most wool produced in the United States is pulled wool. In this country, then, wool is truly a by-product of the meat industry.

While sheep are the most commonly animal used, other animals are also exploited for the production of wool. Cashmere is produced by goats and angora by rabbits; wool from alpacas is becoming popular these days.

Other Products Derived from the Bodies of Sheep

In addition to wool, there are other products that come from the coat of exploited sheep. Among these are lanolin and Vitamin D3 - also called Cholecalciferol. (Vitamin D2, ergocalciferol, is NOT animal-derived.) There are many products made using the sheep's bodies, as you can see by clicking on the link below.

Alternatives to Wool

Alternatives to wool are readily available, whether you are buying clothing or yarn. These include acrylic, cotton, hemp, orlon, ramie, rayon, synthetic fleece, and synthetic shearling. The fact that there are so many good alternatives (some better than others for particular uses) means that there is no need to continue purchasing wool and supporting an industry that exploits and harms animals.

Your Comments Are Appreciated!

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    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @YogaAngel: It is terrible. And it is marketed as such a wholesome industry/product. The way animals are treated by various industries is deeply disturbing. One good thing is that we can do something by voting with our consumer dollars to not support such cruelty. Thanks for reading this lens!

    • YogaAngel profile image

      YogaAngel 5 years ago

      This is terrible! I didn't know any of this about wool!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great lens.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @JJNW: Inhumane treatment of animals makes me feel really sad, too! I am really sensitive and don't watch the gut-wrenching videos about animal farming.

      To an extent, small local farms *may* be a bit better. But even animals raised by caring farmers are subjected to harsh living conditions and go to the slaughterhouse in the end. And the people involved in the transport and killing of animals don't have the time (nor, perhaps, interest) to treat the animals respectfully.

      It is a very painful topic to consider, and I thank you sincerely for giving it thought.

    • JJNW profile image

      JJNW 5 years ago from USA

      I wish I could get more informed, but reading about mistreatment of animals makes me too sad. I do think there are a lot of lovely, happy sheep living on nice farms. Perhaps buying from local, non-industrialized places would help? I appreciate your opinions and work!