To someone new to veganism, wool may not seem as bad as leather because sheep, goats, alpacas, angora, rabbits, and other wool-producing animals don’t need to be killed for their wool.
So do vegans wear wool?
These cute animals are simply sheared once a year and can spend the rest of their time happily frolicking in the meadow, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the reality for the millions of wool-producing animals that are exploited for their wool every year. They suffer their entire lives, and most of them end up being killed for their flesh once they stop being profitable.
Most of the world’s wool comes from sheep in Australia which produces a quarter of the world’s wool. Australian sheep shearers get paid by volume, not by the hour, so they work quickly to get a meager wage. This is both dangerous for the human workers and worse for the sheep. Fast sharing leads to many accidents where sheep end up having their tails, teats, ears, and strips of skin cut off. Major wounds are quickly sewn shut without any anesthetic.
Sheep are forcibly held down and roughly handled while being sheared, which hurts the sheep and causes them lots of stress. Sheep are also victims of sadistic abuse on top of the abuse they already suffer just to steal their wool. PETA investigated 30 shearing sheds in Australia and the U.S. and shot footage of horrific abuse from sheep shearers who were beating, stomping, and breaking the necks of terrified sheep.
It’s common for animals in farms to deal with extra torture at the hands of cruel workers because you have to be a sadist to work in that kind of environment. These animals have no way to defend themselves and are treated like pieces of trash instead of living creatures with thoughts and feelings who deserve freedom and respect.
Sheep are emotional animals who are also very social and form strong social bonds within their herd. They’re also very intelligent and have good memories. Sheep can recognize different human faces, read human facial expressions, and solve mazes!
In the wild, sheep naturally shed their wool once a year, but merino sheep have been selectively bred not to shed and to keep growing hair. That’s why in the news, you might have seen stray sheep found with 80 pounds of wool stuck on their bodies.
It is not natural for them to grow that much wool. It’s incredibly dangerous and harmful for them to have been bred that way. Because merino sheep grow so much wool, they’re prone to getting something called “flystrike” which is when parasitic flies lay eggs in an open wound. The maggots end up eating everything around them which is extremely painful for the sheep and can kill them.
This can be prevented humanely by simply cleaning the sheep’s backside regularly. But because there are so many sheep packed into sheep farms, and the farm wants to produce as much wool as possible while spending as little as possible, there aren’t enough workers to clean the sheep.
Instead, lambs go through a torturous process called “mulesing” where giant chunks of the wrinkled skin around the lambs’ tails are cut off without any anesthetic to create scar tissue around that area.
Imagine being forcibly held down while having the skin on your butt peeled off without any anesthetic while you’re still a child? On top of having their skin peeled off, lambs also have their tails chopped off also to prevent flystrike. This is also done without an anesthetic. It’s horrific, but this is common practice in the wool industry.
As if that’s not enough torture for the lambs, male lambs are castrated without painkillers between 2-8 weeks old. Their testicles are either cut out or a rubber ring is used to stop the blood flow to their testicles so that they fall off. If they don’t fall off, they’re chopped off. They are also dehorned without painkillers.
Because of how dangerous these methods are and the common farming practice of forcing as many lambs to be born as possible in order to have enough adult sheep to produce wool, thousands of lambs die every year from either infection, exposure, neglect, or starvation.
To get so many lambs, sheep are sexually assaulted and forced to reproduce against their will. To extract a ram’s semen, rams are forcibly held down while an electric rod is shoved up their rectum, and they are masturbated at the same time. You can read about the different ways rams are sexually assaulted for their semen straight from a semen collection company.
To impregnate ewes using artificial insemination, ewes are forcibly strapped upside down while their stomach is stabbed with various large needles and probes. Another method is to shove a tube up the ewe’s vaginal canal. Sexual assault of animals is common in the farm animal industry as well as the pet industry.
Sheep can naturally live to be 10-12 years of age, but on farms, sheep are murdered at around 5-6 years old. When sheep get older, their wool becomes more brittle and is seen as worthless to farmers. Sheep that are bred and raised for wool end up being slaughtered in the same horrific ways that other farm animals are slaughtered.
Unwanted sheep are shoved onto ships and sent to the Middle East. The trip is very dangerous and scary for the sheep. Many die along the way. There are supposed to be animal welfare laws to make this trip less horrible, but laws are broken on sheep export ships every day. 60 Minutes Australia released undercover footage of sheep suffering and dying on those ships.
Wool is also bad for the environment. This chart from the Higg Sustainability Index is a helpful guide to see which textiles emit the least to most greenhouse gas emissions.
The Higg Index is a part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which helps global brands and manufacturers improve their sustainability by finding an eco-friendly alternative for the apparel they design and produce. This chart shows that alpaca wool releases the highest amounts of greenhouse gas emissions while sheep wool releases the 5th most. It is not sustainable at all!
If you truly want to understand how much sheep suffer so humans can use their wool, then watch the “Sheep” section of the documentary, Dominion. It’s very graphic and heartbreaking, but everyone needs to see this documentary so they understand how much animals suffer at the hands of humans. It’s like a horror movie, but it’s unfortunately real.
Thankfully, there are so many cruelty-free alternatives to wool that are soft and warm. Hemp, organic cotton, and linen are great cruelty-free alternatives and are also eco-friendly. There is also something called “Weganool” which is vegan wool made from a perennial weed that grows naturally!To see a complete list of animal-based textiles to avoid and better, vegan alternatives, check out my Vegan Fashion and Cruelty-free Clothing guide.