Guest Girlie Blogger Nicole Capobianco spills the truth about sheep, shearing, and why it’s time to ditch the itch for good;
Every year around this time, when fall and winter fashions make their way into our field of vision, I inevitably find myself in a conversation with an otherwise ethical person about the wool industry. Most recently I found myself in an online debate with a woman who claimed that she was a dedicated vegan despite the fact that she uses wool and insisted that the vegan community was misguided in our stance against it.
Sadly, wool often slips under the ethical radar. In fact, at one time I was a confused (and itchy!) wool wearing girl myself. While I had long abandoned leather and fur and eagerly embraced a plant based diet, I didn’t really understand what was so wrong with wearing wool. It’s something that seemed to grow naturally and effortlessly and I was always under the impression that shearing was for the sheep’s own benefit. What harm was caused in borrowing some fluff from our sweet little friends for the sake of a fabulous winter cape? It will grow back anyway, right?
Oh sisters, let me tell you…..the cold, hard truth about the wool industry is even uglier and creepier than that snowman sweater grandma made you last winter.
The only reason why sheep “need” to be sheared is because we bred them that way. According to VeganPeace.org, wild sheep in their natural existence don’t need to be sheared. In fact, they intelligently produce just enough wool to protect themselves in the winter months, which then gradually thins out to stay cool and comfy come summertime. The domestication of sheep for the wool industry has resulted in the need to shear because these sheep have been specifically bred to grow overly thick and heavy coats. Merino sheep for example, often die of heat exhaustion during the brutal summer months. To deal with the side effects of unnaturally long and thick coats, which include the infestation of maggots buried deep into their skin that literally eat them alive, ranchers perform an operation known as Mulesing. Large chunks of flesh are ripped off the backs of lambs and around their tails with no anesthesia.
Shearing causes sheep to suffer. If you think that the shearing process provides relief and comfort for the animals, think again. According to The Vegan Society, shearers are often paid by volume, not by the hour, which results in little to no regard for their well being. In fact, the encouragement of fast work causes more pain and anguish for 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.”
Purchasing wool sentences sheep to death. Although there seems to be widespread belief that wool sheep live a long life on a sprawling pasture, this simply isn’t their reality. If a sheep manages to survive their horrendous living conditions, they are inevitably scheduled for slaughter. Once a sheep ceases to produce the amount of wool needed for ranchers to profit, they undergo a long and painful export to a rendering plant. After being released from tightly packed holding pens, the sheep often travel up to 50 hours at a time without food or water. If they survive this ordeal, the final destination is typically a country with minimal slaughter regulations, where animals often regain consciousness while being dismembered. In the Middle East for example, sheep undergo a “death march.” Reuters reported in 2002 that 14,500 sheep died from heat exhaustion while traveling to the Middle East. The “downers” were simply thrown overboard.
The wool industry causes collateral damage. Female sheep often give birth either in their tightly packed holding pen, or en route to their deaths. The newborn lambs are typically trampled to death within hours of their arrival. But other wildlife is affected as well. In the US coyotes are routinely destroyed due to their hunting of sheep and other livestock, while the Australian government allows landowners the freedom to kill kangaroos who act as “pests.”
So now that you know why we veggies shun sheep fluff, you may be wondering what’s a compassionate girl to do come fall and winter? Making the transition away from wool to more ethically friendly fashions is a lot easier than you may think. There are so many beautiful, sustainable, breathable, and skin friendly options to choose from. Say “Oh, hooray!” to cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece, Tencel, and bamboo. If you’re feeling extra eco friendly, look for Polartec Windpro, which is made primarily from recycled plastic soda bottles yet feels like a second skin.
Still straddling the fence? Allow me to share the turning point in my personal journey towards a cruelty free existence. About three years ago, my cat Sparkle became friends with a little lamb named Rocky that had been rescued from a freeway where he had most likely fallen out of a transport truck.
As I watched the two playfully chase each other around in the sunshine, it struck me how synergistically they felt happiness and peace, how they were sharing an experience of pure joy. I felt compelled at that moment to do my part to ensure that ALL animals have the freedom to live for their own reasons, and not for the sake of my sweater.
Born and raised in NYC, Nicole Capobianco is a sales executive by day, animal rescuer by night, and overall loudmouth on a mission to raise awareness about compassionate and ethical living for the glamorous girl with a conscience.