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Does wool REALLY hurt sheep? (Spoiler: Yes!)

It is not uncommon for people to say that they understand why vegans won't wear fur or leather but wool? Wool doesn't hurt sheep, they argue. It's like getting a haircut, and by the way, did you know that if you don't shear those sheep, they end up with too much wool and can overheat and die? Why do vegans know so little about farming?

A mother sheep with her young lamb rubbing their head against her body. The mother is marked with a spot of red spraypaint. Other similarly marked sheep and lambs are in the background.

Let's make a few things clear: it is true that sheep can suffer from overheating if they aren't sheared. But this is a similarly poor argument to the one that some people will make about cow's milk when they say that it hurts cows if they aren't milked often enough. What these people neglect to mention--or perhaps aren't aware of--is what leads up to that. We breed dairy cows to give ten times more milk than they would normally, impregnate them and then, when their calves are born, take the calves away so that we can drink the milk instead. (This is just one of the horrors visited upon dairy cows.) It is hardly an act of mercy to milk a cow after you've placed her in a painful situation of your own creation.

Similarly, sheep have been bred to grow much more wool than they would in nature. Wild sheep not only grow less wool overall, they shed it during the warmer months and therefore self-regulate their temperature, as do many other fur or hair-bearing animals. So again, we have manipulated the very bodies and lives of these animals for profit, creating a situation where they are dependent on human intervention and then treating it as an act of kindness or even necessity to do this to them:

Shearers are usually paid by the volume of wool they collect, rather than by the hour. In the UK, they receive approximately £1 per fleece. This encourages fast work and little regard for the welfare of the sheep. The above undercover footage of 49 English and Scottish sheep farms shows that this results in frustration, shouting and violence towards these frightened, struggling animals.

Of course, this is far from the only cruel part of the wool industry. There is still castration, early slaughter, the mass die-off of lambs every spring (15-20% annually), the horrors of transport and much more. Learn all about it at our research page!

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