As with other industries where animals are raised for a profit, the interests of the animals used in the wool industry are rarely considered. Flocks usually consist of thousands of sheep, and individual attention to their needs is virtually impossible. Many people believe that shearing sheep helps animals who might otherwise be burdened with too much wool, but without human interference, sheep grow just enough wool to protect themselves from temperature extremes.
Australia produces about a quarter of all wool used worldwide. Within weeks of birth, lambs’ ears are hole-punched, their tails are chopped off, and the males are castrated without anesthetics. Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without regard for the welfare of the sheep. Says one eyewitness: “[T]he shearing shed must be one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals … I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or their fists until the sheep’s nose bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off …”
In Australia, the most commonly raised sheep are merinos, specifically bred to have wrinkly skin, which means more wool per animal. 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. To prevent this so-called “flystrike,” Australian ranchers perform a barbaric operation—mulesing—or carving huge strips of flesh off the backs of lambs’ legs and around their tails. This is done to cause smooth, scarred skin that won’t harbor fly eggs, yet the bloody wounds often get flystrike before they heal. Every year, hundreds of lambs die before the age of 8 weeks from exposure or starvation, and mature sheep die every year from disease, lack of shelter, and neglect. To learn more, visit PETA.org.