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This might shock you, but guess what? Sheep don’t need to be sheared! In fact, sheep grow just enough wool to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer in their natural habitat—unless they’re bred to grow more than would ever be necessary.
In Australia, where a lot of the world’s wool comes from, merino sheep, who are not native to the climate, are bred to have wrinkled skin—which means more wool per animal to make money from. This unnatural overload of wool causes animals to die of heat exhaustion during hot months, and the wrinkles also collect urine and moisture. Attracted to the moisture, flies lay eggs in the folds of skin, and the hatched maggots can eat the sheep alive. In a cruel attempt to prevent this, Australian farmers often barbarically cut chunks of skin and flesh off the animals’ backsides (a practice called “mulesing”)—usually without painkillers and using tools that look like gardening shears!
Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work with little regard for the sheep’s welfare. In the shearing shed, sheep are often subjected to rough handling, and the frightened animals may suffer multiple injuries from the sharp cutting tools.
Some sheep who are used for their wool will also face further horrors of “live export” when they are no longer wanted. Tens of thousands of sheep are crammed into huge open-deck ships, packed together so tightly that many are often unable to reach food and water and starve to death before they make it to the Middle East—where they’re sent for slaughter. Investigators filmed conscious animals who were thrown to the ground, tied up by all four legs, and slaughtered by having their throats cut open with dull knives.
Shopping for a comfy sweater? Check the label to be sure there’s no wool! Look for vegan fabrics instead, such as cotton, nonwool fleece, flannel, or synthetic shearling.
NEVER purchase clothes or shoes made out of wool or sheepskin (like UGGs!).